Heather Walston Warner almost panicked when she got the call from her daughter Ella, screaming and crying.
“My husband and I were at lunch when she called and I didn’t know what was going on,” Warner said. “She was screaming, and I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I kept saying, ‘Ella, do I need to come home?’”
And then she heard the name “Clara,” and immediately knew Ella was screaming in excitement, not pain or agony.
The Florence teen had been tapped to dance the lead in South Carolina Dance Theatre’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed this weekend in Florence.
Warner knew exactly what her daughter was feeling. After all, she had gotten the same “call” back in 1986 when she was a member of the South Carolina Dance Theatre.
“Back then, we didn’t have email and cellphones, but I remember walking into dance class that day, and all my friends were pointing to the list on the wall, saying: ‘You got it. You got it. You’re Clara,’” Warner said.
“I think for most anybody who does ballet, that’s a dream. I know it was my dream. It was just so exciting, and Ella being chosen to be Clara was just as exciting. I’m glad Ella has loved ballet. I certainly haven’t pushed it on her. She just loves it. She comes home from school and starts dancing around the house, just like I remember flitting around the house with my mom.
“It taught me discipline, poise and grace, and I see it’s doing the same for her. That’s really something special to watch as a mom.”
Ella, 14, started ballet classes when she was only 2 years old. She’s taken tap, jazz and even gymnastics through the years, but ballet has remained her passion.
“I love ballet,” Ella said. “I love how graceful it is. It’s just so exciting, and it makes me so happy.”
But make no mistake: Dancing the role of Clara — or any part in the Nutcracker, for that matter — is hard work.
This marks the first time in the company’s history that a mother and daughter have danced the role of Clara.
“It’s intense,” Ella said. “Some days you dance seven days a week, three hours a day. You really have to be committed to this. And you have to work through the pain, but that’s one of the things I love about it.”
Ella and the rest of her company have been rehearsing for many weeks and are looking forward to sharing their work with the community as they take the stage this weekend at the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s famous music, the traditional ballet features elaborate scenery, professional-quality costuming, intricate choreography and riveting dancing, all of which make for an exceptional experience for young and old. The story of “The Nutcracker” takes place in a German home where two children, Clara and Fritz, are entertained at a party given by their parents. Clara’s favorite uncle gives her a magical present of a nutcracker. She falls asleep and dreams. When she awakens, the room is filled with mice and toy soldiers who have magically come to life under the Christmas tree.
A ferocious battle ensues, and the Nutcracker leads the charge of the soldiers against the mice who attack Clara. Clara saves the Nutcracker’s life, and the dream continues as he turns into a handsome prince. Together they journey into the Kingdom of the Sweets, where toys come to life, flowers dance before their eyes, and the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier perform their magical pas de deux.
Susan Rowe is the artistic director of the ballet, and the symphony will be directed by Terry Roberts.
Leading roles for the ballet are danced by company members.
Rosemary Flamini will dance the role of Sugar Plum, Kailey White as Snow Queen, Alyssa Hanna as Dew Drop, Grace Munn as Arabian, Bailey Barefoot as Spanish and Ella Naylor as Russian.
Guest artist Tripp Taylor will appear as Nutcracker; Ava Hatchell and Alaina Naylor will alternate as Chinese. Alyssa McGee will perform as Mouse King and Isabelle Dauksch as French Mirleton.
The cast includes Lily Merzlak as Columbine and Maria Evans as Cadet Doll.
The company is pleased to welcome back to its stage Antonio Brown, a former company member and a frequent guest artist for the SCDT, as Cavalier and Snow King.
Other guest artists include Jeff Murrie performing as both Mother Ginger and Grandfather, with Rebecca McLain as Grandmother, Nick Townsend as Herr Drosselmeyer, Jimmy Wilson as Herr Stahlbaum and Rachel Flamini as Frau Stahlbaum.
Other company dancers include Giada Basta, Annie Ruth Eliason, Ella Grace Jordan, Arden Rand, Isadora Seeber and Emma Wentzel, who will perform as Clara’s friends and in other roles throughout the ballet.
The company’s younger dancers include Jewel Brodie, Carolyn Conner, Natalie Brewton, Yvie Dillard, Vanessa Brewton, Vivian Edwards, McCall Gregg, Louisa McLeod, Aly Powell, Isabel Quann, Olivia Kate Rand, McKinley Riley, Sofia Sargent, Abi Urquhart, Aubrey Youmans, Olivia Allred, Emma Kate Green, Eliza Johnson, Ella Quann, Hannah Quann, Willa Ann Ridenhour, Stella Stamato, Anna Claire Vincent and Miriam Welch.
Preparatory students Anna Caroline Campbell, Brynlee Conrad, Genevieve Edwards, Casey Alexa McHugh, Finley Ruffin and Ashley Caroline Vincent will be Angels.
For more information on the company or the Nutcracker, email firstname.lastname@example.org.