All new Durham Nutcracker debuts Dec. 12, 13

Walltown Children’s Theatre dancers (left to right) Ginger Hintzen, Yashimabeth Kudumu-Clavell and Jessie Howard rehearse for the annual production of The Durham Nutcracker. (Staff photo by Anna Williams)

Outside the rain poured into the dark night, creating puddles in a mostly empty parking lot for a brick building that sits on a quiet residential street in Durham. After stepping into the Walltown Children’s Theatre, at 1225 Berkeley Street, to escape the rain, my mood instantly lifted. Between the brightly colored office walls and the sound of music and laughter, it would be difficult to not notice the joy that this building contains as cast members rehearsed for their annual performance of “The Durham Nutcracker.”

 Jade Franco, who’s been dancing at The Walltown Children’s Theatre since she was four years old, cracks a smile while practicing her first solo for the performance. (Staff photo by Anna Williams)

Jade Franco, who’s been dancing at The Walltown Children’s Theatre since she was 4 years old, cracks a smile while practicing her first solo for the performance. (Staff photo by Anna Williams)

But this isn’t the version that you’ve seen before.

“Our version of The Durham Nutcracker evolves as the characters do,” said the president of the Walltown Children’s Theatre board, Cara Williams. “The shell of the story is the same but the details change, the songs change and the choreography changes.”

The Walltown Children’s Theatre, founded by Executive/Artistic director Cynthia Penn, a professor in the Drama School at the prestigious UNC School of the Arts, opened its doors on Oct. 6, 2000. Through Penn’s leadership, the theatre has remixed Tchaikovsky’s classic tale in order to add elements of dance that aren’t commonly seen within the mainstream production.

“We have kids performing from ages 5 to 16, and we include styles like Bollywood, Chinese, tap, hip-hop, jazz and ballet,” said Williams.

Daphne Chinfloo, 11, and a Durham native, said she was excited to play the part of “Rebecca” in this year’s production.

“I was in it last year but I didn’t have a speaking role,” said Daphne, with a sinister grin. “I’m the lead mean girl this year.”

Daphne, who loves hip-hop, modern, contemporary and African dance styles, will be performing in a variety of styles, like many cast members in the production.

During a rehearsal for the ballet rendition of “Waltz of the Flowers and Butterflies,” many of the cast members chatted about opening night, eager for the final product.

“I’m excited to have an audience,” said Jessie Howard, 14. “We’ve been practicing in front of the mirror for so long that it’ll be nice to finally look into their eyes and be able to just perform.”

Jade Franco, who will be celebrating her 15th birthday during the show’s performances, giggled with the other dancers as she talked about her character and prepared for her role within the production.

“I have a solo this year,” said Jade, a Durham resident. “I’m excited about that and I’m excited about my lines. I have a favorite line. I get to be mean to ‘Jordan.’”

Nia Huell-Griffin, 11, who lives in Chapel Hill, talked about her “wanna-be” mean girl character “Jordan,” with enthusiasm.

“She’s just trying to fit in,” said Nia. “I like playing her because she’s like me.”

Although the story is changing, some aspects of performing remain the same. Yashimabeth Kudumu-Clavell, 13, talked about the night of the performance with anticipation in her voice.

“My favorite parts are the costumes and getting ready,” said Yashimabeth. “Last minute makeup and making sure everything is ready.”

As the headlights of cars waiting to pick up children began to beam through the rehearsal room, the final touches were added to the piece. The cast members patted each other on the back for a good run-through of the performance and packed their bags, filled with homework and tutus, to head home.

“The first act of The Durham Nutcracker will be familiar,” said Meg Feigal, office manager of the Walltown Children’s Theatre. “But the second act changes. We will end with high energy.”

The Walltown Children’s Theatre’s presentation of The Durham Nutcracker features two performances at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12, as well as a performance at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13. Tickets are available for purchase.

“This will be an artistic journey you don’t want to miss, “ said Williams.


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