Tiny dancers twirl on Guild Hall’s stage during The Hampton Ballet Theater School’s annual performance of The Nutcracker.
A scene from Snow with Maggie Ryan as the Snow Queen in Hampton Ballet Theatre School’s production of The Nutcracker.
Sara Jo Strickland runs a tight ship. Ask any of the parents whose little sugarplums are dancing round and round in the weeks preceding the four performances of the nutcracker at Guild Hall. But that level of expectation, even from the three-year-olds, combines with the professional costumes and the storied theater to create an experience that reaches an audience beyond the realm of parents and grandparents.
Hampton Ballet Theatre School’s performance of the nutcracker has become a holiday happening, not only for the dancers’ loved ones, but for anyone who appreciates ballet. “After the rigors of class and rehearsal, they feel a great sense of accomplishment,” says Strickland of her students, who learn about more than just grace, flexibility, agility, and commitment; they learn about working through something when it’s challenging. “The biggest benefit for any young dancer is the confidence and self-esteem.”
Even though she’s in it for the kids, Strickland does not take the audience for granted. Putting on a top level performance is important to her. “I push to make it as professional as I can,” she says. “I hire professional dancers from the city and out here to raise the bar.”
And then there are the costumes—Strickland works closely with designer Yuka Silvera, who has made costumes for professional theater productions, operas, and films throughout New York. “As soon as the costumes go on, it’s like a fishing touch and they feel beautiful,” says Strickland. “It buttons up the eight weeks of rehearsal, and they feel as if they’ve arrived. They look more alive, more beautiful, and the dancing is stronger.”
Says Kelly Silvera, a psychologist whose two daughters have been dancing with HBTS for years (and no relation to Yuka), “I think when the dancers are amidst a space as professional as Guild Hall, where they have true dressing rooms with mirrors, bright bulbs, their costumes hanging aside them, there’s a centering, a sense that this is special, important, and real.”
People with no personal connection to the dancers of HBTS have written to Strickland about coming back to The nutcracker and Guild Hall year after year. Says Strickland, “The nutcracker is a tradition: kids dress up in holiday clothes and you make a special occasion out of it.” Guild Hall, 158 Main st., East Hampton, 324-0806