, Salem, MA


December 13, 2012

A 'Nutcracker' anniversary

Holiday ballet showcases local students

In 15 years with New England Ballet Ensemble, Gabrielle Rizzo has danced nearly every role in “The Nutcracker.”

“In kindergarten or first grade, my first part was as a little lamb in the marzipan dance,” said Rizzo, now an 18-year-old senior at Swampscott High.

Over the years, she also appeared as a baby mouse, “a party girl and a party boy,” a little angel, and a big angel.

Like many of the nearly 100 local students who will appear in the ensemble’s performance this weekend in Marblehead, Rizzo started dancing even before she went to school.

“I was probably 3 years old when I started dancing for them,” she said. “I remember my first dances and being excited at getting my first tutus.”

Rizzo was also delighted when, at 13, she got to dance the lead role of Clara.

“That was easily one of my most memorable dancing experiences,” she said. “It’s an acting role as much as it is a dancing role.”

Two dancers from Marblehead will appear as Clara this season — Jenny Minney, 12, and Michaela Bird, 13 — and they will take turns appearing in the ensemble’s two performances, on Saturday and Sunday. The girls are students at the two local dance studios that form the New England Ballet Ensemble and have joined forces during the last 20 years to stage a holiday performance.

Minney and Rizzo are students at A Performing Arts Academy in Salem, which is co-owned and directed by Susan Byrne and Seanna Chmura, while Bird dances at Miss Lisa’s Dance Studio Plus in Marblehead, directed by Lisa Moretti.

“We’ve done ‘The Nutcracker’ for 17 years,” Moretti said. “We also did ‘Rudolph’ one year, and ‘Buddy the Elf.’ But this year being our 20th anniversary, we wanted to do a classic.

“When we got together 20 years ago, Boston Ballet was the only one doing ‘The Nutcracker.’ We wanted to give the local dancer an opportunity to perform these wonderful roles on our local stage.”

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