SHERIDAN — The Sugar Plum Fairy will be dressed to the nines, and the Mouse King will be covered in fur.
Clara and her Nutcracker Prince will be ready to dance, warmed up and anxious backstage at the Alberta Bair Theater.
As it does every year around the holidays, “The Nutcracker Ballet” will soon return to stages nationwide, dancing a tale told since it came to life on stage in 1892 Russia.
While many people in attendance will have visited the Land of the Sweets in their imaginations many times before, when the San Diego Ballet company takes to the stage Nov. 29 in Billings, Montana, one little local will experience a first: dancing in a professional performance.
Actually, 8-year-old Gabby Wright will experience many firsts playing a junior soldier in the upcoming ballet after recently being selected for the role following her first-ever audition.
Wright is a student at Woodland Park Elementary School by day and at Pieknik’s School of Dance by night.
She has been dancing for three years now and has danced in two performances, both here in Sheridan with fellow students at her studio.
But after a bit of encouragement from dance teacher Christina Davey, Wright (and her mom) drove north to try her hand (and toes) at a tryout.
After what Wright describes as a lot of waiting, some leaps across the gym and a bunch of easy moves, she landed the role.
“The Nutcracker is mainly a children’s ballet,” Davey said. “The ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ is all on point so professionals do those parts but there are several parts like the party scene, the mice and the little soldiers, those are all scenes children play.
“Some of the younger parts they just do some skipping and running across the stage, not so much dancing, but the older they get the more dancing they do,” she added. “Her (Wright’s) part requires some definite ballet training and skill.”
Wright, some more junior and senior soldiers, some baby mice and Clara herself, are all rehearsing together weekly at Betty Loo’s School of Classical Ballet in Billings, preparing themselves for the arrival of the San Diego Ballet dancers who will join them in one short month.
The excitement will come Thanksgiving weekend.
Traditionally, on the Friday after Thanksgiving the dancers are fitted for costumes and have rehearsal all day until almost midnight.
“That’s when the company actually comes and does it with them,” Davey said. “All the big dancers will be there.”
Davey said Wright and the other young dancers in the area have never really seen anything like this because there aren’t any big performances or real dance companies nearby.
“It’s going to enlighten her,” Davey said. “They will find out they have to do it over and over and over. There’s a lot of waiting and having to be very quiet and pay attention and when it’s your time to be on stage you better get it right or you’ll do it again.”
But Wright is ready, and surprisingly calm about the whole thing.
“She is a very serious little girl, a very hard worker,” Davey said of Wright. “I don’t want to say I pick favorites but she is the ideal student as far as working hard, paying attention and not goofing around.”
Perhaps this is because Wright wants to be a professional dancer, not “when she grows up” but now, and always.
The quiet and focused ballerina said she cannot remember why she joined ballet in the beginning, but the whole thing just comes naturally to her.
“I like that I am good at it; it’s easy and it makes me feel good,” Wright said from the couch in her studio recently.
“I have a lot of energy,” she added, saying that all the rehearsing does not make her tired.
Davey knows how thrilling this will be for Wright as she has performed in “The Nutcracker” many times, once at a young age alongside some famous dancers.
Davey is the daughter of a ballet teacher, who owned Pieknik’s School of Classical Ballet as well.
After starting to dance at age 2, Davey went on to study at the National Academy of Ballet and Theater Arts in New York, a place where studying began at 6:30 a.m. and went to 9:30 p.m. without break, so students could master not just their typical high school topics but also ballet, character dancing, jazz and more.
At the age of 14, Davey was selected to dance in “The Nutcracker” with the Royal Ballet of London, a company that did not usually take dancers that young.
The role afforded Davey the opportunity to dance on stage with world famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev, one of the dancers who defected from Russia and the top dancer in the world at the time.
“The thing I remember most is he yelled at me,” Davey said with a chuckle. “I wore contact lenses at the time and I had got something in my eye and I came out a couple seconds late for one of my entrances and he started yelling at me and that stayed with me all my life; it terrified me.”
But the experience was what she needed to understand what professional dancing was really like, Davey said.
“To be in that atmosphere gives you a really good idea of what you’re looking at if that’s what you’re pursuing as a career,” she said. “You get to see how it’s not just flitting across the stage like a fairy with wings, it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of practicing and rehearsal. Dancing is a hard life.”
Davey did go on to dance professionally before developing foot problems and switching to teaching.
But when asked what she thinks about Davey’s story, Wright said, “I’m just excited to be in a performance,” in her typical focused way.
“I think about anybody can do it,” she added as she waited for the class of dancers occupying the hall to finish up. “You just have to keep practicing.”