by Terry Rogers
For the second year, First State Dance Academy and their dance company, DanceCo – X, are preparing for their holiday show, “The Nutcracker Express.” The show is the traditional Nutcracker Ballet with the battle scene but with the Polar Express storyline incorporated in the story.
“We wanted to offer the Milford and surrounding area something a little different since there is a Nutcracker ballet being performed at Milford High School and throughout the area,” Michele Xiques, Director of the organization. “The story still has the same characters as the Nutcracker ballet, but introduces the Conductor, kids on the train, Caribous, Santa and the elves from the North Pole that appear in the Polar Express movie.”
The journey begins in Clara and Fritz’s living room where they host a party that includes some younger friends and dancing the Nutcracker with life-sized dolls. During the party, David, the children’s father, leaves to change into a Santa outfit that makes it clear it is David dressed as Santa leading Fritz to begin to question whether Santa actually exists. After the party, he sneaked into the living room to read more about Santa Claus and after he falls asleep, he begins to dream, much like the original Nutcracker story.
“It is every young dancer’s dream to dance Clara in the Nutcracker,” Kyleigh Dunlap, 14, of Milford, said. “It is an honor to be selected to dance Clara for a second year. Michele’s choreography really helps me grow as a dancer. Clara ties together the whole production, it is a lot of responsibility. Also, Clara in the Nutcracker Express dances the entire show. I really love acting the part of Clara because I love to be on stage and perform for an audience. It is so much fun to play her because she has such a great imagination. Dance is a way to express myself since I tend to be somewhat shy. I strive to improve my technique and artistry with every class and performance.”
This year, the company will have their own train flats as well as new additions to some of the scenery. Xiques explained that the scenery for the production is not flashy in order to not overwhelm the stage and take attention from the dancers. This year, Xiques added a fun, new finale to a jazzy version of Jigle Bells by Winton Marsalis. The show offers a classic ballet with character and a Broadway style of jazz dance ne pointe, hip hop and jazz. The production was choreographed by First State Dance Academy instructor, Kaitlyn Conboy.
Like most dance organizations. First State Dance has an academy that teaches dance and a performing company. In 2018, Xiques changed the name of the performance company to Dance Company X, which is abbreviated DanceCo – X, keeping the name of the dance school as First State Dance. This allowed her to incorporate her name in the dance company. She explained that, like the new name of the dance company, this version of Nutcracker Express will have adjustments and changes.
“The beauty of my job, being the artistic director and choreographer of most of the show, is that I have the freedom to make the changes to fit and to adjust to the needs and skills of the performers,” Xiques said. “The choreography is challenging and exciting to the dancers and to the audience. Our dancers become better dancers in the end due to the demand level of the choreography. My previous dance teacher, Tatiana Akinfieva-Smith, always told me I would be a good choreographer some day and, little did I know back then, that I would be 100 percent involved in creating new works.”
Xiques still looks at Akinfieva-Smith as her mentor and was thrilled to hire her full-time at First State Dance while she was still Artistic Director of Diamond Dance Company. Xiques explained that Akinfieva-Smith worked alongside her at First State Dance after she purchased the business from Maria Fry, a co-founder of Diamond Dance Company and owner of A Dance Class, until she passed away. She believes dance instills self-accomplishment, teaches how to meet challenges and creates discipline, drive, ambition, confidence and teamwork.
“Our bodies are the tools needed in order to perform dance,” Xiques said. “The children and adults learn how to better take care of themselves in order to be able to dance as long as possible before the body starts breaking down. Dance is a short-lived career due to the demands and strain it puts on the body. Our studio and dance company are careful about putting young girls en pointe. We wait until they are around 10 as the growth plates are not fully grown until later in their teens. We also demand that they take no less than three ballet classes per week to maintain strength and technique. It can be very dangerous if a young person is put en pointe too early as growth plate injuries can cause permanent damage.”
According to Xiques, First State Dance Academy and DanceCo-X is different because they have produced several professional dancers. They offer training that makes it more likely a dancer can move into a professional dance career. The company is Milford’s longest running dance studio and has been in business since 2001.
“One student was the only American invited to train in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Vaganova Academy of Ballet,” Xiques said. “One went viral on the internet and we now have one featured in Dance Spirit and in En Pointe magazines coming out in December. Our studio was chosen as a stop for a former governor on his arts tour of Delaware. I have been recognized by the Delaware Arts Council as an award winning Emerging Choreographer. Our teachers are committed to providing their students the best training and have extensive training as well as experience. Our environment is professional, offering the best training one can get in a safe and nurturing environment. Our doors are always open for anyone interested in dance to come see for themselves what we do.”
The Nutcracker Express will be performed at Milford High School on Saturday, December 8 at 6 PM and on Sunday, December 9 at 2 PM. In addition, the company will be performing at 7 PM during the Holiday Stroll in downtown Milford in front of the Second Street Players theater and the Santa House. In the spring, they will perform “Wizarding Worlds” ballet and they also plan to participate in many community events over the year.