Seventeen-year-old Liam Kinney would have happily bid adieu to the Nutcracker Prince character after his performance last Christmas. He decided to reprise the role one more time, though, insisting he was absolutely certain who would be picked to play the ballet’s iconic Clara this year: his little sister.
“There was never a doubt in my mind that you would be Clara,” he told his sibling with a grin inside the Vermont Ballet Theater’s Essex dance studio last week. “I knew I wanted to dance with her one more time on the stage.”
Nora Kinney, 13, humbly waved off that suggestion, swearing she wished the leading part would be hers but wasn’t sure until the cast list was announced. The Essex siblings will dance opposite one another in two of the four shows later this week, uniting with the main company members.
Liam usually studies hip-hop and jazz with the Jericho-based Vermont Youth Dancers but has joined the VBT’s Nutcracker for three years to help fill the titular male role. Luckily, he joked, the part predominately requires acting and miming instead of the highly technical ballet moves.
“After that, Nora does most of the dancing,” Liam said. “It’s very impressive.”
Logging her seventh year in the VBT show and 11th with the studio overall, Nora said she had a lot of fine-tuning work to do despite her familiarity with the production. With Nutcracker rehearsals added to her normal class schedule, she’s spending about 25 hours dancing per week.
“It’s just really become nostalgic to me. When I hear the music and see the set, it just makes me happy,” Nora said. “Clara is just really a great part because you get to do a little bit of everything.”
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s highly popular ballet follows the adventures of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, a toy that has come to life on Christmas Eve. Together, they battle the villainous Mouse King and travel to the Land of Sweets ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy.
A series of dances, performed by the older members of the VBT company, coincide with the presentation sweet gifts — chocolate, coffee and tea among them.
Many Nutcracker productions cast a much younger dancer to play Clara, but VBT traditionally favors older performers, according to marketing and public relations director Michele Fodero.
“She dances through the whole thing, which is why she has to be accomplished,” Fodero explained. “[And] she’s on pointe through the whole thing.”
It’s unique to have siblings sharing the stage in these principal roles, but Fodero said the entire VBT production is consistently family-oriented from year to year. In the opening party scene, for example, studio parents (the majority non-dancers) often briefly perform with their own children.
Like Nora, many VBT students have danced their way up through the Nutcracker ranks over the years. In fact, VBT alumni and current principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater in New York City is performing the Sugar Plum Fairy in two of this year’s performances, a press release said.
“It’s an awesome effort by the kids; they’re just amazing,” Fodero said. “[Every year] we watch the video of the previous year and they’ll start learning the next part that they may be eligible to audition for. They throw themselves in there and know what they’re doing already.”
The chance to perform on the Flynn Theater stage in Burlington only adds to the professional atmosphere the studio attempts to create throughout the year, Fodero said.
And while Nora is eyeing a potential career in dance, Liam said he plans to hang up his dancing shoes for a while when he begins college next year. A three-sport high school athlete himself, Liam doesn’t hesitate when asked who works harder in their extracurricular activities.
“Absolutely Nora puts in more work,” Liam said. “I have such a respect for dancers. They’re so dedicated.”
Nora and her peers will have a brief reprieve after the show closes, but many will begin auditions for summer intensive programs in January. Even with the demanding schedule, she said she’s never once considered taking a break from the craft.
“I’m always anxious to get back to ballet, even after a school break or something,” Nora said. “I get so stir-crazy if I’m not dancing.”
The Vermont Ballet Theater’s production of “The Nutcracker” plays at the Flynn Theater in Burlington on December 16 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and on December 17 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are available at 863-5966 or at www.flynntix.org.