POSTED ON DECEMBER 16, 2009:
Falling in Line
Family's involvement with The Nutcracker spans three generations
Following Footsteps. When her daughters were old enough, Georgia Snoke put them in ballet lessons, and they both performed in The Nutcracker … And, three of Snoke’s five grandchildren have performed in the ballet.
Many in our city consider Tulsa Ballet's annual presentation of The Nutcracker a family tradition.
For Georgia Snoke's family, that's especially true.
The former ballet dancer's history with "The Nutcracker" dates back to 1956, and both of her daughters and three of their children have danced in the ballet, representing three generations of involvement in the classic tale.
When Tulsa Ballet's founders, Roman Jasinski and Moscelyne Larkin, retired to Tulsa, they began recruiting dancers from area ballet schools, including the Matlagova School of Ballet, the school Snoke attended, to form their own academy, the Tulsa School of Ballet.
In 1956, the school's dancers performed the snow scene from The Nutcracker, in which Snoke performed.
When Jasinksi finally choreographed his version of the full-length ballet for his then-called Tulsa Civic Ballet in 1968, he designed the role of the center girl in the "Arabian" scene especially for Snoke.
"When a choreographer choreographs a role on you, he takes your strengths and uses them to show off the dance," Snoke said.
Snoke danced through college and then moved to California with her husband, where she spent a number of years and birthed two daughters, Heather and Kelsi.
When she moved back to Tulsa with her family in the early 1970s, Snoke began volunteering with Tulsa Ballet, training children for their roles in The Nutcracker.
"There is a big difference between the Jasinski Nutcracker and the (Marcello) Angelini Nutcracker," Snoke said. "Marcello lessened the number of children but gave them more to do.
"In The Nutcracker, children learn to focus, to work as a team, and they're given very high expectations," Snoke said. "When I train the children, I expect them to be better at the end than when they started. And they are, and they leave with such a sense of pride."
Snoke trains the children who dance in the school and party scenes. Mackie Sutton trains the soldiers, and Merry Lahti trains the mice. All three are unpaid.
When her daughters were old enough, Snoke put them in ballet lessons, and they both performed in The Nutcracker. Heather (Snoke) Pohl was an apprentice to the professional company, and Kelsi (Snoke) Neill danced the role of Clara, the lead child's role.
In 2003, when Marcello Angelini, TB's artistic director since 1995, choreographed his version of The Nutcracker, he, too, choreographed a role for Snoke, that of the ballet mistress in the first act. Snoke also plays the queen in the second act.
And, three of Snoke's five grandchildren have performed in the ballet, including Aidan Pohl, 8, performing this year as a soldier.
For Snoke's children and her grandchildren, dancing and performing in The Nutcracker came naturally.
"As a matter of course, I gave my children ballet classes, and, as a matter of course, they auditioned for The Nutcracker," Snoke said.
"I think, when a child is very young, (ballet) opens doors for them. I believe in opening doors and not just saying, 'Do you want to go to the ballet?' but taking them.
"My grandchildren know the arts, not just that the arts are out there. They've grown up in it."
She said her youngest two grandchildren have so far shown no interest in dancing, but it's likely they'll still know ballet as attendees, taken to performances by their mothers and grandmother.
Snoke said the thing she's enjoyed most about her long history with Tulsa Ballet's The Nutcracker is getting to know and become close friends with the company's professional dancers.
Those relationships are a few of the things that haven't changed throughout the years, while TB's version of the tale has.
Angelini's version of The Nutcracker, set in Paris in the 1920s, opens with a Christmas party to announce the French premier of ballet.
Marie, a young dance student at the Paris Opera School, is charmed by a story and, after falling asleep following the party, dreams of being a part of it, helping the Nutcracker Prince defeat the evil Mouse King.
Angelini's version of the story is inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman's 1812 novel The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
Marie was the name of Hoffman's lead character
(versus the "Clara" many are used to in the more traditional version of the ballet). In TB's latest newsletter, "CenterStage," Angelini explained some of the choices he made in designing the ballet, including its 1920s setting.
"Since arriving in Tulsa 15 years ago, I have always been in awe of the wonderful art deco architecture, and this setting allowed me to pay tribute to my adopted hometown," Angelini said. "Additionally, I felt it was important to create a ballet that would appeal to children and adults, to dance enthusiasts and first-time attendees. And, of course, the choreography had to challenge the dancers."
"In the past, professional dancers would (dismissively) say, 'Oh, it's the Nutcracker,' and, unless it was the lead role, they slept through it," Snoke said. "Not so with Angelini's Nutcracker. When new dancers come in, they think it's going to be a piece of cake, and then they crawl out of that first rehearsal on their hands and knees."
Angelini said, "The essence of The Nutcracker, which relates to the holiday spirit, is that of renewed generosity and kindness.
"It's about celebrating the beauty of the human soul," he said. "The Nutcracker is not just about dolls, candy canes and imaginary kingdoms; it's about true, innocent untainted love."
The Nutcracker plays in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall, 110 E. 2nd St., Dec. 17-20, with weekday evening performances at 7pm, Saturday performances at 2pm and 7pm and a Sunday matinee at 2pm. Tickets are $15-$55 at www.tulsapac.com or 596-7111.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A28811