Ballet does not discriminate on the basis of age, and the New Orleans Ballet Association will prove it twice on Sunday.
NOBA will offer its annual performances of “The Nutcracker Suite” at Dixon Hall on the Tulane University campus at 3 p.m. and again at 6 p.m., with a cast of all-amateur dancers ranging in age from single digits to 77.
“Dance has a way, as all arts do, to bring people together,” said Jenny Hamilton, NOBA’s executive director.
First, it will bring together members of the NOBA Center for Dance’s Pre-Professional program (ages 9-18) and the Senior Dance Fitness program (no age limit) from the city’s eight New Orleans Recreational Development centers to rehearse. Then it will bring together hundreds of guests from the community to enjoy the show.
“We do our dance with the children, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Irethea Gilyard, 77. “I have an 8-year-old grandson, so it gets me prepared for when I have him during school breaks.”
Gilyard has been a loyal member of NOBA’s Senior Dance Fitness classes for seven years. This will be her third “Nutcracker Suite” performance. She said performing is a thrill, but the community aspect of the program is her true inspiration.
“I attend three to four classes per week. It keeps us active as seniors. But even when we’re not in class, we’re all friends, and we do things together,” Gilyard said.
Angelo Vicini, 12, also spends a lot of time inside NORD centers. He recently cut back from dancing six days a week to five. But he was back at the Lyons NORD center on a recent Sunday for costume fitting and group rehearsal.
“I’m playing Fritz, the annoying brother. It’s great,” he said.
Angelo has been with NOBA for three years, and he dances year-round. This summer, he attended dance camp for nearly 10 hours a day. A seasoned veteran at 12, he’s met some of the dance world’s big names, such as Desmond Richardson, Donald Williams, Kellye Saunders and Trey McIntyre. And he’s comfortable in front of an audience.
“I actually feel less nervous when I’m performing,” he said.
Kennedy Dorsey, 18, has almost completed her time with the Pre-Professional program and is looking forward to dancing in college next year. But for now, she’s enjoying her time rehearsing with the children and the seniors.
“The kids have so much energy, and they’re always happy. They inspire me to have energy when I’m tired,” she said.
And the seniors?
“I love them! They’re so feisty. They have so much sass,” she said with a laugh.
Dorsey is one of NOBA’s star talents. She’ll play the role of the porcelain doll in “The Nutcracker Suite,” while her fellow high school seniors play the remaining lead roles as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen (Cori Lewis), the Nutcracker Prince (Will Byram), the flower soloist (Taylor Landry) and the military doll (Leielani Ealy).
Dorsey puts in a minimum of 20 hours per week of dance practice on top of earning top marks at school. She’s already performed with some of the most famous dancers and companies in the country (Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Joffrey Ballet, Limon Dance Company and others), which Hamilton said any participant in NOBA’s free youth dance programs can do if they have the ambition and the discipline.
“Kennedy’s ré sumé when she graduates from college will be better than a lot of pros. Any of these children can walk into these NORD centers at 6 years old and do the same. There’s a clear path defined for that child. They never have to pay for a class. If they need tights or shoes, we can give them that, too. The only barrier is they have to have the work ethic,” Hamilton said.
Or, they can choose just to have fun and dance in “The Nutcracker Suite.”