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Raising the Barre: West Hartford’s Ballet Theatre Company’s ‘Nutcracker’ at the Bushnell

Clara dances with the Bluebacked Speller Doll in a nod to West Hartford's history. Photo credit: Thomas GIroir

‘The Nutcracker’ gets a refreshing update from West Hartford’s Ballet Theatre Company and its first group of resident dancers with performances to be held at the Bushnell’s Belding Theater.

Emily Silva and Derek Brockington dance in a scene from ‘The Nutcracker.’ Photo credit: Thomas GIroir

By Tracey Weiss

With its first troupe of resident artists, fresh choreography, and a strong staff behind the scenes, Ballet Theatre Company (BTC) is ready for its closeup when it premieres its newly-reimagined version of The Nutcracker at the Bushnell this December.

This Nutcracker never strays from the classic telling of the story of Clara – who befriends a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve and wages a battle against the evil Mouse King. But it will feature new production design and interactive technical work that will be immersive for the audience.

“There is so much to look forward to,” BTC Artistic Director Stephanie Dattellas said. “There are new costumes, new choreography, new sets, and an incredible new team. The staff, the production crew, are all dedicated professionals.”

Look for some fun surprises in this production, too. One big one, Dattellas said, is Lauren Lovette, who will be playing the Sugar Plum Fairy. Until she retired this fall, Lovette was the principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, as well as a choreographer for some of the New York City Ballet’s productions.

“This is so exciting for everyone involved,” Dattellas said. “There are surprises involving a lot of the character performances,” as well as a few she’s keeping secret for now, and one that involves a nod to West Hartford’s history.

“From Godmother Drosselmeyer’s Dancing Dolls who tip a hat to the history of West Hartford, an epic battle scene featuring the talents of Studio 860’s breakdancers and hip-hoppers, to the blizzarding Snowflakes, a new and decadent Mother Ginger, and a reimagined Waltz of the Flowers that truly transports you inside a kaleidoscope of blooms and blossoms, this year’s production has made all my artistic dreams come true,” Dattellas said.

Lauren Lovette will play the Sugar Plum Fairy. Courtesy photo

Leap of faith

After two years without live performances due to COVID, BTC’s season started up again last month with “Up Close: Fall,” a four-movement ballet held at their studio.

It also heralds in a new era in for the company. One of Dattellas’ goals has been to have a resident paid company at BTC and this fall she brought in professional dancers. Thirty auditioned, and the six members of the company include Ballet Mistress Emily Silva, and dancers Jo-ann Burke, Mollie Petrizzo, Victoria Jaenson, Naomi Langill, Sarah McCahill.

Derek Brockington, guest choreographer and a dancer of Dance Theatre of Harlem, has returned for the third season in a row to perform in “The Nutcracker.”

Performing as part of the dancing troupe is a dream come true for the resident dancers. “I love the environment,” Silva said. “Stephanie pushes you to do your best. It’s a wonderful, inspiring environment.”

Jaenson, who plays the Snow Queen in “The Nutcracker,” said, “It’s really exciting. With COVID, there was so much up in the air. I never thought I would get back on stage. This is better than I imagined.”

Brockington lives in New York and is in his fourth year performing with Dance Theatre of Harlem, but he loves coming to work with BTC. This is his third year. “It’s nice to be a part of something so big. Stephanie does a great job.”

McCahill moved back from Florida and teaches dance in the area. She took on the residency and is thrilled with her decision. “I missed dancing so much. You don’t realize that until it’s gone. Each day, I love coming into the studio. You feel yourself improving every day. I’m here because I love to do it. It makes my teaching so much better.

“We all dance together so well and we all get along. I’m so proud of everybody. We all have so much more appreciation for what we have.”

Petrizzo grew up in West Hartford, and took classes at BTC for many years. “It’s so special to come back here,” she said. “It’s like a second home. It’s so unique. We’re all from different experiences and backgrounds. Everyone is so great. We help each other out. We’re a team. We’re all valued. We work on our strengths and experiences.”

BTC offers classes for ages 3 to adult, from beginner to experienced levels.

Offering a number of class options means that those who are serious about pursuing dancing, like Petrizzo, can go one route while those who wants to take it more for fun can go another, all under the same roof: men and women, boys and girls are all welcome.

Ballet Theatre Company’s reimagined Mother Ginger. Photo credit: Thomas Giroir

The big jump

“It’s been a dream come true,” Dattellas said. “To envision all of this and see it come to fruition, after all the time and effort and dedication. I can now focus more time on enhancing and refreshing choreography, and to have these dancers working four days a week … our students feel it. When you walk in now it feels like we have finally filled our space.

“Doing the production at the Bushnell was one of my goals,” she added.

BTC’s production had been at the University of Saint Joseph’s theater for years, but they had outgrown the space.

“We were planning to move to CCSU but because of COVID, the university cancelled all live performances for the year,” Dattellas said. “I called the Bushnell and they had the weekend open.”

This means the three performances on Dec. 11 and 12 can each have an audience of 900 instead of the 360 people who could be seated at each performance at USJ. In addition, BTC’s production of “Aladdin” will also be at The Bushnell on April 23, 2022.

Ballet Theatre Company is celebrating its 23rd season as a premier dance company, offering professional training, community outreach through studio dance and events.

The not-for-profit is run by founder and executive director Tracy Dorman. She brings to the Company extensive experience as a dancer, choreographer, administrator, and dance educator, and has earned numerous awards for scenic and costume design, photography, and arts advocacy.

And this is only the beginning of a new direction for Ballet Theatre Company, according to Dattellas.

“My team rocks,” she said. “They inspire me to do more and do it better.”

Performance details

Ballet Theatre Company presents “The Nutcracker” at Belding Theater at The Bushnell’s Maxwell M. & Ruth R. Belding Theater

  • Dec. 11, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Dec. 12, 2 p.m.
  • Tickets are $43-$78
Visit bushnell.org to purchase tickets. Those unable to attend can still tune into the digital stream of the 2021 performance , which will be available for viewing Dec. 20, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022. Those tickets are available at

A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of West Hartford LIFE.

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