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Local students shine in Minnesota Ballet's 'Nutcracker'

Kirsten Rye of Esko will perform in the Minnesota Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker." Other local youth participating are Aubree Stein of Cloquet, Kendal Davis of Mahtowa, and Abigail and Lily Rud, both of Esko. Contributed Photo

Kirsten Rye, a seventh-grader at Esko's Lincoln Middle School, has been dancing since the age of 2. And now, at the ripe old age of 12, all her hard work and self-discipline will pay off as Kirsten dances the feature role of Clara in the Minnesota Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" later this month.

"Being Clara, as Kirsten Rye will be, is the dream of many ballet students across the country," attested Betsy Holcomb of the Minnesota Ballet.

This is not Kirsten's first performance in "The Nutcracker," however. After starting ballet at a studio in a small southern Wisconsin community, she began dancing with the Duluth Ballet after she and her family moved to Esko when she was in fourth grade. Since then, she's played the roles of a caroler, a mouse, a gingerbread child and a sea urchin in the fabled holiday classic. This year, she said she was selected for the feature role of Clara during auditions with her class.

"I'm really excited about it," she said.

She's been rehearsing for the role for the past two months, participating in a large group rehearsal every Saturday and small group rehearsals every Tuesday and Thursday, with full dress rehearsals yet to come.

Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday, Dec. 21; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at the DECC Symphony Hall, with the UMD Festival Orchestra playing the Tchaikovsky score live and the Lake Superior Youth Chorus providing vocal accompaniment.

Kirsten will be featured in the centerpiece role at Saturday's performance, with another dancer cast in the role for the Friday and Sunday performances. And though this will be Kirsten's big moment in the spotlight, she remains matter-of-fact about it.

"I don't really see the audience when I'm on stage," she said. She did candidly admit, however, that is a bit "nerve-wracking" to dance in the presence of a professional dance troupe.

Kirsten said though ballet requires a good deal of work, it's something she really enjoys.

"I like the gracefulness of it," she said, "but it's really harder than it looks."

Kirsten will be joined on the stage by several other dancers from Carlton County, including her sister Kelsey, a senior at Esko High School. Kelsey, who has also been dancing since the age of 2, will appear in all three performances this holiday season and is likewise a "Nutcracker" veteran.

"The first year I played the role of a mouse," Kelsey related. "The costumes were made for someone a lot smaller than I was, and it was pretty challenging to dance, since mine was so tight!"

She has also danced the role of a geisha for the past two years, a role that she will reprise once again this year during the Saturday performance as well as the role of a Spanish dancer in the Friday and Sunday performances.

"I'm branching out!" she said with a laugh.

Kelsey admits ballet is "really fun," though she isn't planning on going into it professionally.

"It gets pretty intense," she said, saying they sometimes have class as many as five days a week. "It's been fun, though, because it's something my sisters and I can do together."

Kirsten and Kelsey have an older sister, now in college, who danced with them as well.

Kelsey admits that though she's a veteran of the ballet stage by now, she's "really shy on stage."

"I'd really rather dance by myself," she said.

She said it's "amazing" to watch the professional dancers from backstage, adding that she has a great deal of admiration for what they do.

Also appearing in the upcoming "Nutcracker" performances will be Cloquet Middle School seventh-grader Aubree Stein, who will appear in the street scene in all performances and as a soldier on Friday and Sunday; Kendal Davis of Mahtowa, a seventh-grader at Carlton Middle School, who will appear as a party guest on Friday and Sunday; Abigail Rud, an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School, who will appear as a soldier on Friday and Sunday; and Lily Rud, a fifth-grader at Winterquist Elementary School in Esko, who will appear as a Mother Ginger child in all performances.

Conceived and choreographed by Allen Fields, the ballet's artistic director emeritus, the production features the party scene in an opulent townhouse overlooking Central Park; the battle scene in the townhouse later that night; the snow scene in the glittery park itself, led by the Ice Fairy; and a magical journey to exotic lands of Asian, Arabian, Spanish, and Russian dancers, led by the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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