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Dancers prepare for performance at Ritz

On Saturday, December 5, a local audience will have what is a truly rare treat in the year of COVID-19: a live professional dance performance.

While many ballet companies and even Broadway itself have closed their doors for the season, Montgomery Ballet Theater is still sharing the performing arts. They’re just doing it 2020 style.

When the ballet company presents their 49th edition of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker” at the Ritz Theatre that night, they will all be performing in masks and taking precautions to ensure they and their audience stay safe and healthy while bringing holiday magic to the Camellia City.

For the dancers, 2020 has been an extra challenge in terms of rehearsing and preparing for their roles.

“For this performance, I think the most difficult thing is trying to figure out how to get different emotions across while wearing the mask,” said Bean Shindell, who is performing as multiple characters, including the Soldier, Snowflake, Mirliton, Arabian and Flower.

“You can’t see us smiling or reacting, so the dancer has to be bigger with the body language, and the overall aura being given off, to get the emotions to read well from the audience’s vantage point.”

Shindell, who is new to the MBT but has danced for more than 20 of her 23 years, says it is “extremely special” that the company is getting to perform during the pandemic.

“Danny (Mitsios, company director) has done a wonderful job making the show COVID-friendly while still maintaining the integrity of the story,” Shindell said. “This is a great opportunity to continue a holiday tradition safely.”

Sarah Gregory, who will be performing as Soldier, Snowflake, Spanish Dancer and Flower, added the toughest part was getting back into a studio for the first time in six months.

“Dancing at home is very different than dancing in a studio. Getting back into performance shape was definitely a difficult feat for me. And I also had to get used to dancing in a mask,” Gregory explained.

“Dancing in a mask is a different feeling for everyone. Learning what kinds of masks work best for me when dancing and how to pace myself throughout classes and rehearsals took some adjusting.”

Gregory says all the effort is worth it to bring this beloved ballet to local audiences.

“The Nutcracker is such a well-known ballet, and it is beloved by dancers and non-dancers alike. Even without choreography, the score stands alone as a holiday classic as well,” Gregory said.

“ I enjoy putting all the pieces of the ballet together to create the story. The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for many, and I love being part of that tradition. Despite all the hardships facing the arts at this time, Montgomery Ballet has found a way to still bring this holiday classic to the stage, and we are excited to be performing on stage for an audience again.”

Daisy Medeiros, new to MBT but a “Nutcracker” veteran many times over, says that the ballet, and the opportunity to share it with fellow dancers and their audiences, means something extra special in the year of COVID.

“ At the end of the day, I am blessed to even be in a studio as there are dancers who are still practicing in their living rooms,” Medeiros, who is Dew Drop’s understudy as well as performing as a Soldier, Spanish Dancer and part of the Snow and Flower Corps, said.

“If anything, COVID has taught me to put more of myself into this art, to really take every little detail in and give everything I have and more when I am out there on that stage. And for that, I’m grateful.”

And Medeiros has one more message she wishes to share with MBT’s prospective Greenville audience.

“We want you to come and join us. With everything that is going on, I think we all need some holiday cheer (and a little magic), even if it is for one evening,” Medeiros said.

“Let us share the stage and whisk you all away to a world of endless possibilities and of course… dancing.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there is limited capacity seating for “The Nutcracker.” Tickets are $15 and can be ordered in advance by visiting www.montgomeryballet.org. The magic begins on Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the historic Ritz Theatre in downtown Greenville.