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"The Nutcracker" tale takes place in Clara's dream, but Kris Cangelosi gets to interpret it.

Cangelosi is directing the "Cangelosi Dance Project: Holiday Nutcracker," which opens Dec. 14 at the Manship Theatre.

This is the dance company's first time staging a full production of the Tchaikovsky classic, which prompted Cangelosi to take a closer look at the story.

"Clara is about 13 or 14 in this production, and so many times the Prince is so much older than her," she says. "I thought the Prince should be Clara's age so the story could be more of a teenage romance."

And the story does play out with plenty of puppy love during a full rehearsal in the company's studio. Costumes and projections will be added in the Manship Theatre.

"And there will be plenty of Christmas magic," Cangelosi says. "You have to have Christmas magic in 'The Nutcracker.'"

The company's "Nutcracker" will tell the traditional story through classical ballet with a cast of 110 that includes a large contingent of children.

Angelique Francois, a 14-year-old Lee High freshman, is dancing the part of Clara, and Jared Gremillion is her Prince.

"Jared's sister takes dance here, and he came in one day to get her," Cangelosi says. "When I saw him, I thought, 'What a good-looking kid. I'm going to get him to play the Prince.'"

And she did.

The 13-year-old eighth-grader started rehearsing for "The Nutcracker" this fall while playing both running back and linebacker for Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School.

 

This production marks Gremillion's first time on the dance stage, though he has taken hip-hop classes at Cangelosi.

But this is different. It's a love story told through dance, and Cangelosi has lots to say about Gremillion, as well as the rest of her cast.

"Jared is perfect for the role of the Prince," she says. "And the rest of the cast is so strong in talent. In the past, we'd stage the second act of 'The Nutcracker' in our 'Holiday Mix' shows. This was the first year that we had the talent to stage an entire production of 'The Nutcracker,' so we decided to do it."

The story begins at a Christmas Eve party, where Clara is given two special presents. The first is a pair of pointe shoes from her mom, and the second is the prize nutcracker from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. Clara's brother Fitz is jealous and damages the doll. Once the guests are gone and everyone is asleep, Uncle Drosselmeyer returns to magically fix the damaged nutcracker.

This is where the magic begins. Clara faints when a larger version of her nutcracker appears, then awakes to the sight of a handsome Prince. The two journey through a land of ballerina snowflakes to a magic castle, where the Prince escorts Clara to the Land of Sweets. There, she's entertained by dancers performing Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dances.

The Prince eventually guides her back away from the castle, where the dream ends.

Hannah Willson Hinson dances three roles in the program, some of which include the show's children.

"It's so much fun watching the kids," she says. "We teach classical ballet here, so they were prepared for it."

Cangelosi first taught the choreography to the company dancers, who later led the children through it.

"It's really funny, because a lot of the little girls standing on the sides will act out the parts of the live dolls when the dolls start dancing," Cangelosi says. "They'll hold up their arms and move like the dolls. They really do pay attention to what's going on."

And Gremillion is paying even closer attention. Playing a ballet prince is different from playing linebacker and running back, but that's not saying the roles have nothing in common.

"I've learned a lot, and ballet has even helped me in football," he says.


'Cangelosi Dance Project: Holiday Nutcracker'

WHEN: 7 p.m. Dec. 14, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 15.

WHERE: Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.

ADMISSION: $28-$38.

TICKETS/INFORMATION: Call (225) 344-0334 or visit manshiptheatre.org.

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.