The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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November 9, 2012

Ballet sticks with 'Nutcracker' tradition

PITTSBURG, Kan. — It's one of the most classic Christmas stories ever told on stage, so although Kaye Lewis is known for thinking out of the box when it comes to directing performances, she's not messing with "The Nutcracker."

"'The Nutcracker' is 'The Nutcracker,'" said Lewis, who heads up the Midwest Regional Ballet in Joplin. "We're doing the classical, traditional version, because I think that's the version that most people expect to go see. The only thing I do differently is we don't have Mother Ginger where kids come out from under her skirt. That's just weird."

Odd choice of words coming from a woman known for her love of the weird, including last year's version of "Nightmare Before Christmas," complete with skeleton aerialists and Marilyn Manson songs to which ballet dancers performed hip-hop.

"I guess I'm known for sort of being dark and gothic, but I'm not completely all about that at all," Lewis said. "I have a sweet side, too."

Her company's 20th or 25th production of "The Nutcracker" -- she can't remember exactly, she's been doing it so long -- will open as a five-run performance next Thursday at Pittsburg's Memorial Auditorium.

Dancing the role of Clara will be Carl Junction High School student Makayla Dreager, who has performed in the ballet for 10 years.

"She's gone from little mouse to the lead role," Lewis said. "When I announced I was tired of the costumes and would be changing Clara's, it didn't occur to me that she had watched four different Claras dance before her in that costume, and she would be stepping into that costume. She begged me not to change it, so I kept it the same."

Dancing the role of The Nutcracker will be Columbus teacher Brock Goben, who by comparison has never danced in the classic ballet before. His first show was "Nightmare" last year.

In one of the two most sought-after roles, Carl Junction High School student Jenna Garrison will be dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

"Jenna also worked her way up from mouse to the coveted role, and she was Clara in 2010," Lewis said.

In the other, Joplin High School student Josh Velasquez will be dancing as the Cavalier. He also will double as the Arabian dancer.

While Lewis is promising classic/traditional this year, she already is brainstorming a future version of the ballet -- like a swing dance rendition featuring a World War II-themed, USO-style production.

She's also planning a steampunk version of "Alice in Wonderland" set to music by Queen to be performed next year, and promises a future production of a story related to the Grinch.

"This is just one of my favorite times of year," she said. "It's a great season to be creative in."

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