Imps & Ingenues: Children of ’The Nutcracker’

American Ballet Theatre’s holiday classic will include 35 young dancers from the new ABT William J. Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center, Orange County’s first dance school with ties to an internationally renowned professional company. These kids convinced us that talent and ambition come in all sizes.

Jasmine Gilbert, 12, Clara
Tell us about the audition.
It wasn’t actually dancing at all. I went up to a little room with other girls who were around my height, and we did a scene that Clara would do. It was acting.

What was your reaction to being chosen to be Clara?
I didn’t expect it at all.

Do you have a dream role in “Nutcracker”?
I think Clara is my dream role, and I still can’t really believe that I’m Clara now.


Ava McLarand, 13, Party Child, Polichinelle
How long have you been taking ballet?
Since I was 7 years old. I like it because I get to be unique.

You’ve been onstage at the center before. What’s it like?
It was really cool, and all the props and stuff looked so real. When I danced, I could see the orchestra and I could see all of the musicians, and some of them would smile at me, so it was really fun.


Heather Chen, 9, Party Child
Why did you want to be in “The Nutcracker”?
I wanted to be on the stage and be a star for our family.

Do you have any siblings?
I have a twin brother. He takes hip-hop. I like both (ballet and hip-hop), but I guess I like ballet a little more. We take (hip-hop) classes together and sometimes do competitions.

Are you close?
No. I like hugging him, but he doesn’t like hugging me.


Chase Rogers, 11, Little Mouse
You were in ABT’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” Why did you want to be in “The Nutcracker”?
I was so sad when “Sleeping Beauty” ended. It was awesome. When “The Nutcracker” happened, I was “Ooh! We can do this again!”

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A ballet dancer. (And) a football player, an actor, and a computer programmer. I learned some JavaScript, and I’m working on that.


Joss Braakman, 10, Party Child
Who’s your favorite dancer?
Daniil Simkin. I like him because he smiles and he’s very enjoyable to watch.

Has anything unexpected happened onstage in the past?
I did a sissonne and I fell on my face.

Oh, no! What did you do?
I got up quickly and continued the dance.


Julie Dove, 10, Little Fairy
Who are your favorite ballerinas?
Gillian Murphy and Stella Abrera. She (Abrera) is Filipino-American, and I’m Filipino-American.

What do you like to do on the weekends?
I dance every day, but we’re trying to free up my Thursday.

Is there something nondance related you like to do?
No one else would probably say this, but homework. I love homework.

Lani Kaiho Mefford 10, Little Fairy
You’re sharing a scene with a top ballerina. How do you feel about that?
Um, I was really … I was really … I don’t know what the word is.

Tell us about your part.
The curtains go up and the Little Fairies interact with each other. It’s supposed to be kind of like flirting. … We wait a little while and then we go onstage with the Sugar Plum Fairy… Then we start looking for the Nutcracker and Clara, but they don’t come so we fall asleep.


Audrey Griffin, 12, Toy Soldier, Page
Are you happy with your parts?
I’m really happy. The Page was new for me… This version of Soldier is so much more exciting.

How was it dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet?
It was fun!…It was hard with the costumes. There were two or three costume ladies who spoke English. The ones who spoke English didn’t speak Russian, and the rest of them spoke Russian and didn’t speak English.


Sohel Bagai, 13, Party Child
When did you start ballet?
Just a few months ago.

And you’re already in a show!
I’ve been doing hip-hop since first grade. I love dance, so I thought I should try other dance styles, too.

Do you dance at home?
I take a long time to get ready (for school) at 6 a.m. because I just dance in the bathroom when I’m getting ready.


Mark Scheidker, 14, Party Child
Is this your first “Nutcracker”?
No, I have been in about 30 different performances.

What do you like about being onstage?
Unlike most other people, I like to feel like I’m being watched. A lot of people get stage fright and want to get offstage as soon as possible. But it feels good to know that there are people out there who are enjoying what you’re doing.


Tori Henderson, 14, Soldier, Polichinelle
You’re also understudying Clara. Do you want to do it?
I hope so at least once because you put all the effort in and you want to see what the outcome is.

Have you invited your friends?
I haven’t because I just don’t think my friends would be very interested. Basically, (they like things that are) the complete opposite. My friends like lacrosse and horror movies, which I don’t like.


Joshua Binowitz, 13, Fritz
Tell me about Fritz.
He’s a bad boy, mischievous, totally bad, doesn’t listen to anything his parents tell him, and all I want to do is be mean to Clara.

What nondance activities do you enjoy?
Well, I love airsofting.

What is that?
It’s exactly like paint ball, but it’s when you shoot plastic BBs, 6mm in diameter. This sounds weird, but it just feels good to get hit and be outside and run around. It’s fun.

“The Nutcracker” with American Ballet Theatre runs  Dec. 10 through 20, at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-556-2787 or

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