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Magical holiday classic

November 18th, 2013 9:49 am by Jennifer Sprouse

Magical holiday classic

32nd Annual Nutcracker by the City Youth Ballet Tatum Gross - Flower, Harlie Painter - Reed Pipes, Chloe Garbe - Snow Queen, Maggie Hensley - Arabian, and Sarah Ann Kenneson - Spanish. Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press

While the story of Clara and her Nutcracker is a tale all fans of ballet have come to learn and love, the Holloway Dancing School, home of City Youth Ballet, will be taking a new, but old, approach this year to their version of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”
After a few name changes over the years, including Johnson City Ballet and City Youth Ballet, Susan Pace-White, artistic director for the school, said they’ve reintroduced the school as the Holloway Dancing School, which was first started by her aunt, Reese Holloway Toohey and her mother, Wilma Holloway Pace.
The school, which has since been passed to Pace-White, and comanaged by executive director Tom Blessing, is now entering its 86th year of instruction, with 32 of those years widely known in the community for putting on the magical dream-sequence ballet “The Nutcracker,” complete with a Sugar Plum Fairy, mice and dancing flowers.
Both Pace-White and Blessing have agreed, though, that this year’s performance will be unlike any of the Nutcrackers the school has put on in a long time.
“We’re going back to a lot of original choreography that my Aunt Reese did back in 1980,” said Pace-White. “ ‘Nutcracker’ gets boring unless you try to do something (different), and we needed to go back to the classical version. We’ve gone back to our roots. It really makes me happy. It’s kind of like going home.”
Blessing, a former student of the Holloway sisters, and Pace-White said the switch back to the old choreography has been fun to see.
“It’s wonderful. It is where ‘Nutcracker’ for us has always been,” he said. “It’s great to go back to that choreography, although there are some new things.”
One of the new additions will be the new choreography of the fight scene between the mice, Mouse Queen and the Nutcracker.
“(Blessing) has done a marvelous job,” Pace-White said. “He has done all of the choreography. It’s really neat. It’s different. It’s something we’ve never done before, but he has really outdone himself. I think people will enjoy it.”
Another reinstated part of the ballet this year is the once-retired peacock costume used for the Arabian dance.
“We kind of changed it up this year on Arabian,” she said. “We’ve gone back to using a peacock coming out of a gold cage. We’ve got new costumes. Tom has been working on extra sets, extra costumes.”
Blessing said there will be new vests for the soldiers, a new Nutcracker costume and new tutus for the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen roles.
“We try to refurbish as much as we can, and unfortunately, we have to use them over and over again, but we try to keep them in the best way we can and tweak them as often as we can to keep them going,” he said.
As one performance ends, Blessing said they are always working toward the next one, and said ‘Nutcracker’ preparation begins in the spring and summertime.
The pair said in June is when the school of dancers start auditioning for roles and working on choreography.
While everyone in the school of around 50-60 students has a role in the overall show, Blessing and Pace-White agree that casting for certain roles –– Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara, Dew Drop Fairy and Snow Queen –– can be challenging.
“It’s a very hard process,” Blessing said. “A lot of consideration, a lot of time. There’s a lot that goes into it –– who’s worked the hardest, who’s earned that position and works toward it on a regular basis.”
He said seeing an annual performance of “The Nutcracker” has become a tradition for many people locally, as well as internationally.
“No matter who they are, somebody has been involved with, has seen it or is going to see it sometime in their lifetime,” Blessing said. “Since its creation, it’s been part of Christmas for everyone, all over the world. For us, it’s that chance to give them (the community) that culture and that part of Christmas that they all look for.”
Pace-White said her students enjoy performing in “The Nutcracker” year after year, so her goal is to make the experience enjoyable for all.
“I just want the kids to love it and have fun,” she said. “I just want everything to come together … smoothly and … I want the kids to remember the 2013 ‘Nutcracker’ as one of the best (times) they’ve ever had.”
Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be Dec. 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and on Dec. 22 at 2:30 p.m. at The Gregory Center for Liberal Arts at Milligan College.
Clara’s Tea, a fundraiser for the school, will also be held on Dec. 7 at the Memorial Park Community Center at 2 p.m.
Tickets will be available for “The Nutcracker” at Bear ‘n Friends, Party Central and at the door.
For more information on “The Nutcracker” or Holloway Dancing School, call 434-2195, email or visit

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