'Nutcracker' gets 'a little update'

It would seem that a "Nutcracker" is a "Nutcracker" is a "Nutcracker"  — but that's clearly not the case in Rochester, where the third major "Nutcracker" of the season will be performed this weekend by the Rochester Dance Company .

With a new artistic director, new guest professional dancers and new choreography, RDC's "Nutcracker" has undergone major changes in the course of one year.

"We just wanted to give it a little tweak, a little update," said Lelia Friel, the company's new artistic director. "The story is still the traditional 'Nutcracker,' it's still the classic ballet."

Friel replaces Ellen Huston, who retired as artistic director after last year's "Nutcracker." Friel, however, is no stranger to RDC. She's been with the company since 2003 as ballet mistress. She's been an instructor at Janet Lang Dance Studio for 14 years, meaning she has trained many of the dancers performing in this year's production.

Still, it's been a major change for Friel to take over direction of "The Nutcracker," which will be presented Saturday and Sunday at Mayo Civic Center.


"It's a lot more responsibility, a lot more hours," she said. "And this year we've changed the choreography completely. We have a few surprises that are a little different."

The production will feature about 80 dancers in total, including 55 company members, 18 little dancers who are not members of the company, adults and guest professionals.

Julie Benirschke returns as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Nikolai Morschakov, a professional dancer from Florida, will be the cavalier, with Ted Southern, a professional dancer from the Twin Cities, as Dr. Drosselmeyer. Other major roles — Clara, the Snow Queen, the Exotic Arabian and the Dew Drop Fairy — will be danced by members of the company.

Morschakov was in Rochester in August to meet with the dancers and conduct classes. He returned to Rochester last weekend for the final week of rehearsals.

"We've rehearsed every weekend since August," Friel said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of the girls. They're talented, intelligent and dedicated. They love to work and love to dance."

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