“The Nutcracker” is a holiday tradition for a lot of families across the country. Usually, that means parents and kids sitting together waiting in the audience, watching dancers performing the classic ballet on the stage.
This year, some Manatee County families will be together on stage at the Sarasota Opera House, performing “The Nutcracker.” Fathers and mothers will dance alongside their sons and daughters in the area’s best-known home-grown version of the ballet.
“Of all the roles I’ve played, this is the most special,” said Bre Mulock, a former dancer with Miami City Ballet. She’ll join her 9-year-old daughter Kaia and her 5-year-old daughter Elin in the performance.
Her daughters have been students at the Diane Partington Studio of Classical Ballet in Ellenton. Partington who operates the school with her husband Rey Dizon have been staging a version of “The Nutcracker” for the past 18 years featuring their student dancers. (Both Partington and Dizon are former dancers with the Sarasota Ballet.)
Most years, one or two parents have been enlisted to take small roles in the Partington Studio’s “Nutcracker.” They’ve mostly been the grown-ups in the party scene, maybe performing a move or two designed specifically for a non-dancer.
This year’s production cranks up the parental involvement a notch, with five parents joining their kids on stage. That’s more than ever before, and for the first time several parents are actually performing with their own kids, instead of being in different scenes.
The families, besides the Mulocks, are Issac Ortiz and his sons Christian and Andrew and daughter Anastasia, Peggy Gardiner with her granddaughter Madison Greene, Frank Atura and his son Frank, Barry Tyler and his daughter Mallory and Chris Vorbeck and his daughter Jessica. Most of the parents won’t have to make any complicated moves — they’re unlikely to be leaping — and the dads definitely won’t be wearing tights.
“It’s great because we get to spend so much time with our kids,” Ortiz said.
Other parents echoed that idea.
It’s great because we get to spend so much time with our kids.
“For me, it’s been a great bonding experience,” Atura said.
Sometimes the kids, many of whom have been studying dance for almost their entire lives, are a little reticent to have their parents join them.
“I asked her, ‘Is this something you’d want me to do?,’ ” Vorbeck said. Eventually, 15-year-old Jessica Vorbeck said “OK, if you want to do it you can.”
Mallory Tyler, who’s now 13, will be in the Partington Studio’s “Nutcracker” for the third time. She didn’t mind her father being in the production, but she didn’t want to have to dance with him.
“She said, ‘OK, you can be a dad, but you can’t be MY dad,’ ” Tyler said.
Eleven-year-old Christian Ortiz is a little more excited about performing with his father.
“It’s fun” he said. “I’m the trouble-maker in the family and I’m the trouble-maker in the production, so it’s role-playing.”
Mulock is the only parent who has professional ballet experience, but Atura knows the dance world. He’s a professional photographer who has worked for the Sarasota Ballet for several years. Some of his photographs from the Sarasota Ballet adorn the walls of the Partington Studio.
They both said that this version of “The Nutcracker” is far above the standard ballet-school versions designed to be cute and sell tickets to parents.
“We hear that all the time,” Partington said. “From the sets and the costumes to the dancing, people say this is more like a professional production.”