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Nutcracker ballet coming to the Brownstone

A magical Christmas gift, a battle with an army of mice, a Sugar Plum Fairy and dancing snowflakes—The Nutcracker ballet is a Christmas tradition that introduces many people to live ballet.

Members of the South Mississippi Ballet Theatre weren’t sure they would be able to bring The Nutcracker to the stage this December, said Katya Orohovsky.

“When we started this, we didn’t even know if we would be able to have a performance with an audience,” she said.

Katya and her husband Arkadiy Orohovsky direct the company.

When some of the COVID-19 statewide restrictions were lifted in October, they got confirmation that the show will go on at the Brownstone Center for the Arts in Poplarville the first weekend of December. The number of tickets will be limited to about 200 per performance, far below the Brownstone’s capacity, to allow for social distancing.

The dance school closed classes in March due to COVID-19 and was holding online classes until July. Rehearsals for The Nutcracker began in September, and the Orohovskys did not know if there would be enough interest from students to put together the show. But over 50 kids auditioned, said Katya.

“Rehearsals have been harder. We are in the studios seven days a week rehearsing so we can keep the groups small and limit contact,” she said.

Many kids have had to miss rehearsals due to school quarantines. Most of the ballet students have not been on stage since the last Nutcracker performance, because a planned performance in the spring had to be cancelled.

For 15-year-old Picayune Memorial High School student Elise Duhon, Christmas is her favorite season, and The Nutcracker is always a part of Christmas.

Duhon travels to Hattiesburg five days a week to attend classes with the South Mississippi Ballet Theatre and will be performing as the Arabian soloist in December’s show.

“She’s just an incredibly hard worker and really lends some grace and beauty to the role,” said Orohovsky. “She’s a very striking young lady, especially on stage.”

Duhon enjoys learning new dances and taking on different roles each year. She will also be performing as a doll, a snowflake and a flower.

“My favorite dance is probably snow. It’s definitely the hardest because it’s seven minutes straight of dancing en pointe and you have to look light, like you’re a snowflake,” said Duhon.

Along with giving students a chance to shine, The Nutcracker will give professional dancers an opportunity to work.

“My husband and I used to dance professionally so we really, really understand the plight of dancers at this point. So many of them are without jobs,” said Orohovsky. “They’re really struggling financially…Having a show that we’re able to invite some dancers and give them a little bit of income, it’s been a God send for them.”

Orohovsky said audiences can expect a beautiful production.

“I think the audience will see from the dancers’ perspective so much more joy this year about what they’re doing, because they realize how easily these things can disappear,” she said.

The ballet students have been incredibly supportive of each other in the face of the pandemic, she said.

“It’s a very different feeling going into it this year than it has been. Ballet dancers tend to be incredibly perfectionistic in everything they do. You kind of have to be, it’s an incredibly dedicated field.”

“Sometimes students can get caught up in that perfectionism and forget that the whole point is to perform for people and I think that they’ve really become aware of that.”

There will be two performances Saturday, Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., with one performance Sunday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Brownstone.

There will be no online ticket sales, so to purchase a ticket attendees must call the box office at 601-403-1180. Tickets will also be sold at the door, but it is recommended that attendees purchase tickets ahead of time, especially if they want to sit with a group of people.