Creating an ‘Impact’
Nutmeg Ballet to perform at the Warner

Gripping a set of castanets in each hand, a dancer at Torrington’s Nutmeg Ballet practiced clicking the concave shells together. The 17-year-old ballerina, Jennifer Schwartz from Canada, is not used to wielding percussive instruments, or fans, another object she and other dancers must carry as they perform an excerpt from “Don Quixote,” a ballet based on a novel of the same name by Miguel de Cervantes.

“It’s just tricky to get the rhythm right, but I’m really excited to dance the lead,” said Schwartz during a recent rehearsal for the piece, which will be part of Nutmeg’s annual “Impact” weekend, with performances in the Warner Theatre’s Nancy Marine Studio on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

“Impact” features a mixed repertoire of classical ballet and original contemporary works, including excerpts from “La Bayadere” and new creations by guest choreographers Brian Reeder, Kate St. Amand and Kirk Peterson.

As he watched more than 20 Nutmeg dancers move through a scene from “Don Quixote,” complete with tambourines, red capes and black-heeled character shoes, Alexei Tshernichov, senior ballet master at Nutmeg, clapped his hands and called out instructions.

“Guys, it’s not laundry,” he said of their cape work. “It’s not about pirouettes. This is performing.”

Victoria Mazzarelli, artistic director at Nutmeg, agreed.

“You really have to be actors for this piece. It’s nice to have this particular piece because ‘Nutcracker’ is the only full-length ballet that we put on now,” she said.

“Impact” highlights the work of Nutmeg students and graduates while exposing them to contemporary pieces and the chance to work with guest artists and choreographers.

“They will all perform, including children from the Torrington School of Ballet,” said Mazzarelli, as she took a break from helping lead the rehearsal and counted out the 58 current Nutmeg students from her paper roster.

Tshernichov, who is staging the work, said the education extends beyond learning the choreography for “Don Quixote,” which is set during the Spanish Golden Age in the early 17th century.

“I give them homework. I don’t give them the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version — or expect them to read Cervantes or the history of Spain, but I want them, at minimum, to Google the literature and spend some time with it,” said Tshernichov, who trained at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow and is a third-generation dancer. His mother is the late Elena Tchernichova, a principal ballet mistress of American Ballet Theatre.

But at least one of the dancers has read the original Cervantes work. That would be Covington Pearson, a 17-year-old Nutmeg student from Colorado.

“I actually read the book last year for school. The ballet focuses on a minor part of the book,” said Covington, who was breathless after rehearsal and dances the role of Espada, the head of the Matadors. “I’m so excited because this is one of my favorite ballets. I’ve always been inspired by the traditional Spanish style and the explosive leaps.”

After the “Don Quixote” rehearsal wrapped, the teachers shifted gears and prepared to work on the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet.” Two couples from Nutmeg recently performed the scene with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford. It was the third year Nutmeg collaborated with the symphony.

During Impact, the scene will be staged by Mazzarelli and Eleanor D’Antuono, Nutmeg’s resident coach and a former prima ballerina with American Ballet Theatre.

“It’s a challenging, beautiful piece, with a lot of lifts. It’s hard for the guy, but it’s wonderful, because he gets to have a different experience,” D’Antuono said.

Contact Carrie MacMillan at cmacmillan@rep-am.com.

If you go

Impact performances will be Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Warner Theatre’s Nancy Marine Studio Theatre, 68 Main St., Torrington. Tickets are $30. To purchase, call 860.489.7180 or visit warnertheatre.org.

"I actually read the book last year for school. The ballet focuses on a minor part of the book," said Covington, who was breathless after rehearsal and dances the role of Espada, the head of the Matadors. "I'm so excited because this is one of my favorite ballets. I've always been inspired by the traditional Spanish style and the explosive leaps."
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