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Repertory Dance Theatre brings alumni back for “Nutcracker”

The Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) of the Lehigh Valley presents its 36th production of the “Nutcracker” ballet, 2 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

RDT, located in Emmaus, was founded by Dolly Haltzman in 1987 as a pre-professional dance company and is now under the artistic direction of Jennifer Haltzman Tracy and Trinette Singleton.

Haltzman Tracy says she is thrilled to have returning students and returning guest artists in this year’s production.

“This year, we brought back an alum, Samantha Fruhwirth, who danced with us all through her childhood and high school years and went on to dance professionally.”

Fruhwirth will play the role of Clara.

The “Nutcracker” ballet is the tale of young Clara, and the Nutcracker doll that comes to life and takes her on a magical journey to the Land of Sweets. It’s a timeless holiday tradition that delights audiences of all ages.

Haltzman Tracy says of Fruhwirth:

“She performed it when she was younger, so it’s exciting for her to come back and perform it again. She’s just fabulous.

“We also have Felicia Cruz-Sharpe, an RDT alumni. She’ll be coming back to perform Snow Queen and the Arabian dance. She also went on to a professional dancing career and now is teaching in the Philadelphia area. She’s absolutely marvelous.

“Daniel Mayo is coming back to be our Prince. He has danced with Samantha [Fruhwirth] in other roles previously. Now to have them dancing together is fabulous, having two professionals doing the lead.”

Mari Takayama returns to perform as Sugar Plum Fairy. Takayama brings with her another professional dancer, Genaro Freire, to perform in RDT’s “Nutcracker.”

“It’s like having five professional dancers, who are like family. We always love that about our company. Everybody really feels like they’re family.”

Performing as Clara’s mysterious uncle, Drosselmeyer, is Eric Feinstein. This will be his 34th year in the role.

Fruhwirth was a professional trainee with American Repertory Ballet after graduating from RDT. She resides in Boulder, Col., and works as a freelance architectural designer, dancer and fiber artist for her studio, She Felt Studios.

Cruz-Sharpe began her dance training in Allentown at age three. In 2010, she accepted an internship at Steps on Broadway, New York City. She received a BFA in Ballet from the University of the Arts.

Cruz-Sharpe is a founding member of DanceSpora, a contemporary ballet company in Trenton, N.J. She is a resident choreographer there and has created many original works.

Mayo received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance in 2007 from The Juilliard School, New York City. Upon graduation, Mayo joined the Atlanta Ballet where he performed until 2010 in classical roles as well as contemporary works by notable choreographers.

In 2010, Mayo joined the Montreal-based company RUBBERBANDance Group where he performed until 2014. During that time, he toured North America, Europe and Asia, and participated in multiple film projects, most notably for BravoFACT Canada and in the film adaptation of Victor Quijada’s “’Gravity Of Center,” which won multiple awards.

Mayo also danced with BalletX in Philadelphia. He has performed as a guest artist with The Atlanta Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Dance Grand Moultrie and Bennyroyce Dance. Since 2018, Mayo serves as a guest artist, educator and choreographer. Mayo is on the faculty of DeSales University as an adjunct ballet instructor.

Takayama was born in Japan and dances professionally with the Eglevsky Ballet. She emigrated to the United States in 2021 and joined the American Repertory Ballet, where she performed Clara in “The Nutcracker.”

She has danced professionally with Connecticut Ballet, City Dance N.Y. and Neville Dance Theatre. Takayama participated in various intensives such as American Ballet Theatre; Miami City Ballet; American Academy of Ballet, New York City; Kirov Academy of Ballet, Washington D.C., and Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

Her repertoire includes Sugar Plum Fairy and Dew Drop Fairy, “Nutcracker”; Flames of Paris, Lucy Westenra, “Dracula”; Kitri, “Don Quixote” and “Giselle.” She is an ABT Certified Teacher.

Freire, of Ecuador, started dancing at 17 and attended Escuela de Ballet Inge Bruckman del Teatro Centro de Arte. In 2013 he moved to New York City to dance with the Joffrey Ballet Concert Group, and toured the Eastern U.S., Canada and China, performing in dances by renowned choreographers. He has danced with New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Freire was guest artist in Delta Festival Ballet’s “Nutcracker” in New Orleans for four seasons, in multiple soloist and principal roles. He danced with the New York Theatre Ballet from 2018 to 2020. In 2022-2023, Freire worked with The Sebastians and Cristopher Caines Dance, Alison Cook Beatty and Tabula Rasa Dance Theater.

There are 65 members in this year’s cast of RDT’s “Nutcracker.” In keeping with the familial theme, several RDT friends and family will perform in “Nutcracker.” Haltzman Tracy’s daughter, Alexis, will play the sword-fighting antagonist, the Mouse King.

“Nutcracker” is accompanied by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ronald Demkee. This will be Demkee’s last year with RDT’s “Nutcracker” as he is retiring in 2024 as ASO Associate Conductor.

“It’s been at least 20 years that we’ve been working with him,” says Haltzman Tracy. “We want to thank Ron. He’s been so incredible over the years and we’re going to miss him terribly. He’s been very special.”

In addition to two public performances, RDT will present three free school shows for area students.

Students who participated in this year’s T.I.P. program (RDT’s Talent Identification Program) will perform on stage for the first time in “Nutcracker.” TIP provides free dance education for talented students.

“There are so many life experiences [in dance] that will last a lifetime. It’s not just ‘Nutcracker’ and gone,” says Haltzman Tracy.

“These are things that the students, whether they continue to dance or go into something else, follow them wherever they go.

“They learn teamwork and discipline. Their self-esteem when they go from just learning and then perfecting something, and to have achieved it in such a short time, and perform it onstage. That’s monumental for some. To see them shine onstage is just a fabulous experience.”

“Nutcracker,” Repertory Dance Theatre of the Lehigh Valley, 2 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; Tickets: Box Office, 610-432-6715, www.repertorydance.org

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY HUB WILLSON “Nutcracker,” Repertory Dance Theatre of the Lehigh Valley, 2 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.