A family Christmas tradition: Lafayette Ballet Company prepares for the 35th annual performance of ‘The Nutcracker’

Published 7:42 pm Friday, November 9, 2018

Generations of Nutcracker ballet participants filled Del’avant on Thursday night, as The Lafayette Ballet Company celebrated 35 years of the ballet by the group in LaGrange.

As in previous years, most roles in “The Nutcracker” will be performed by different dancers depending on the night, and both dancers playing Clara come from a family tradition of ballet in LaGrange and grew up with the LBC.

“I love practicing with each other, and it is great because my mom is the director, but Nina [Frances Baker] has always been one of the most beautiful dancers,” said Addison Orr, who plays Clara. “It is fun practicing together because we are best friends. It is not like it is a complete stranger. It is the person who I grew up with.”

Addison’s mother, Amy Orr, is the ballet’s director, but the casting choice was made by professionals from Atlanta. Nina and Addison weren’t the only second-generation performers in iconic roles either. Lennon Bailey is also a second-generation performer with the group in the role of Fritz.

“We have a panel of five judges from Atlanta, who knew none of the children, come in and do the Clara and Fritz auditions,” Amy Orr said. “We went through the first rehearsal, and [Bailey’s mother] said, ‘Yeah, I was Fritz.’ I thought, how strange was that that five complete strangers picked a daughter a generation later to do the same role.”

Lead dance roles are chosen by guest dancers from Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre.

The fathers of the senior dancers even took part in a short dance with their daughters during the event. The young performers said they were impacted by those who came before them.

“My mom was in [the ballet] LaGrange 35 years ago [and played] the first Clara,” said Nina Frances Baker, who plays Clara. “It was very special for me to get the role. It was amazing when we were down in the costume room, I found the Clara dress that she wore that my great grandmother made.”

Nina’s mother, Markette Baker, said that she was proud of her daughter’s role in the production and the lessons instilled through the ballet. 

“It makes me teary-eyed,” said Baker, a LBC guild member. “You know that what it leads to is this incredible amount of focus which takes them very, very far. All you have to do is look around at the folks who have done this and what they have done with their lives to see the discipline that it instills in these girls whether they continue to dance after high school or not.”

The young performers said that they feel that expectation and the support that comes with it.

“I love my mom so much, and she is such an amazing person that it feels like I have a lot riding on my shoulders,” Nina Frances Baker said. 

At LBC, the program looks beyond any one performance, and Amy Orr said that she believes the very process of taking part in auditions is good for the young performers.

“It just gives kids the opportunity to show what they know, practice for future interviews, college scholarships or jobs, but also to know that they can bring their best to the table, and it will be seen by professionals in casting,” Amy Orr said. “It is really nice for them to have that opportunity. … They usually leave, and they have such a great spirit about “The Nutcracker” and excitement.”

They grew up watching “The Nutcracker,” but that does not make the steps any easier to learn.

“I’ve seen it so many times, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m just going to know this,’ but there were so many other things that I needed to learn, and when my mom started teaching me, it wasn’t like it was just a regular class,” Addison Orr said. “I started learning all the moves — how to wake up. … It is so exciting to learn the new movements and the little walk and to make sure to roll your heel. It is not just natural.”

Other members of the community will also play a prominent role in the annual ballet.

“With it being the 35th year, we have some guest Mother Gingers,” Amy Orr said. 

“Jim Thornton, our mayor, will do one. Debbie Burdette, Mama Jama, will do a show. Officer Brandon Sparks, who is with the LaGrange police and a resource officer at the schools, will do one show. Then Coach Mike Pauley, who is the athletic director at [LaGrange] High School, will perform, so we are excited to bring the community in in a different way. They’ll all be wigged and dressed to the nines as Mother Ginger.”

According to Baker and Orr, parents and siblings of the dancers will also help with the ballet both on stage and off to ensure that the 35th annual performance is one to remember.

“It is pretty amazing. I don’t know that all communities have such a legacy, such a connection through the years with ‘The Nutcracker’ as much as LaGrange does,” Amy Orr said. “Having been here 21 years, I’ve definitely witnessed that.”

Orr encouraged everyone in the community to come watch the ballet.

“This is a great starter ballet for any kids, any families or even date night,” Amy Orr said. “People think, ‘Oh, the ballet its hoity-toity,’ but this is where you want to start. It is very family friendly. It’s very understandable, very colorful. The music is familiar. They may even hear it on Monday night football. You are going to hear the Russian variation on some commercial, so there is a lot of familiarity I think, even for people who think, ‘Ballet is not for me.’ They would enjoy it.”

The LaFayette Ballet Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” will be performed on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m., Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Troup High School Fine Arts Auditorium. Ticket prices will vary with seating location. For more information or to purchase tickets when they go on sale, visit Lsparts.org.