‘The Nutcracker’ -- a bayou ballet (Video)

Young dancers set sights on roles as lambs, cherubs, in ‘Nutcracker’

The pitter-patter of children’s feet filled the Dancers’ Workshop on Sunday afternoon when nearly 300 area boys and girls auditioned for parts in the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s upcoming Cajun version of the timeless Christmas tale, “The Nutcracker.”

Shoeless children, wearing everything from leotards to their Sunday best, marched, crawled and hopped around practice rooms in front of enthusiastic directors who worked to teach them how to be lambs, cherubs, mice, cooks, soldiers, angels and party children.

Since 1993, “The Nutcracker — A Tale from the Bayou” has been performed each December in the Capital City, incorporating local landmarks and featuring world-class guest artists, the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and the children who make the cut at the Dancers’ Workshop auditions.

This year the production will be performed at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 21-22 at the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Sharon Mathews, co-artistic director of the show, said one of her biggest joys occurs when some of the former lambs and cherubs return years later as world-renowned professional dancers.

“That’s the greatest pride you have as a dance teacher,” she said. “But we’re just as proud of those girls that have committed themselves in the youth ballet as high school seniors and college students, who come four and five days a week to rehearse.”

She said they usually try to give parts to every child who auditions, listens to directions and wants to be there.

“There’s usually a place for just about everybody,” she said. “We want them to have a rewarding experience.”

Parents and children began filing into the small studio before the first round of auditions, which began at noon for boys and 1 p.m. for girls. Once they arrived, directors shepherded the children into practice rooms.

In the waiting room, Jennifer St. Cyr stood across the room from her son, Alex St. Cyr, 10, who waited in line with other boys to enter the room.

Alex performed in two previous Nutcracker productions and his mother said he’s been looking forward to the auditions, hoping to be a “party boy” again.

“The boys love to be ‘party boys,’ because they have guns and get to be sneaky,” she said.

In a small room, 23 boys took turns trying to impress Brad Blanchard, director of the party scene, and Molly Buchmann, co-artistic director, by marching in step, following directions and keeping up with the beat.

There could be some heartache in store for some of the boys: Not all of them will be chosen because there are not enough parts to accommodate the large number who showed up Sunday, Buchmann said.

Blanchard walked the boys through the steps several times while trying to get them to maintain proper form and posture.

“Just like soldiers, straight backs, strong arms,” he said to a group that included his son, Beau Blanchard.

The boys’ routine included marching in place while turning 360 degrees and sneaking forward, before scurrying back to the starting point.

Blanchard and Buchmann urged the boys to be animated during the sneaking and scurrying portion of the routine.

“I want to see lots of personality,” Blanchard said. “I want to see you guys having lots of fun.”

Down the hall from the boys group, in a room roughly the size of the River Center stage, more than 40 8-year-old girls stood at the ready in pink and black leotards, waiting to learn the moves of the lambs and cherubs.

First, Rebecca Acosta showed them the lambs’ movements, which included the girls hopping with their arms close to their chest.

Then Susan Perlis showed them the how a cherub moves, which featured several arm and hand movements.

Mathews sat in with that group of girls. She said the directors were pleased with the turnout, particularly with this group of 8-year-old girls, mainly because they dressed right, listened and performed the routines well.

Many of the parents watched as their children auditioned.

Christian Anderson, said she loves watching her daughter, Channli Anderson, perform.

“I think it’s a good outlet for her creativity,” she said.

Channli, a student at Forest Heights Elementary School, was part of the 8-year-old group.

“I love The Nutcracker,” Channli said after the auditions were over.

A veteran performer, Channli said she auditioned, hoping to get one of the lamb parts because she loves the costumes.

“I think I did splendid,” she said of her performance.

See this video of the tryouts here.