McGregor youth display ballet skill, artistry in ‘The Nutcracker’

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Nelie Stollenwerk (pictured center in green) and Macy Crawmer, both of McGregor, were among the cast of 60 who performed in Ballet Quad Cities’ “The Nutcracker” earlier this month. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Two McGregor youth shared their ballet skill and artistry on stage this holiday season. Nelie Stollenwerk, 11, and Macy Crawmer, 15, were among the cast of 60, including 40 students, who performed in Ballet Quad Cities’ “The Nutcracker” earlier this month at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Adler Theatre in Davenport.


Stollenwerk portrayed an angel and Crawmer a soldier in the classic fairy tale ballet, which centers around a family’s Christmas Eve celebration. The girls auditioned in August, inspired by seeing Ballet Quad Cities’ annual production two years ago.


“Mrs. Stollenwerk said, ‘Wouldn’t that be interesting to perform with them?’ But we looked into it and thought, ‘It’s two hours away. That’s too far for us to drive,’” Crawmer recalled.


The opportunity was too good to pass up, though.


“They have open auditions for the community for student roles, so we auditioned,” Stollenwerk said. “After we got a role, we started going to classes.”


Six weeks of practice began in October. Stollenwerk was in the Quad Cities two to three days per week to prepare for her role. Crawmer had fewer, but longer, practices since her battle scene included more professional dancers.


“The battle scene, their practices also tend to be longer since it’s a whole scene, where the angels we do one dance and then we’re in the finale,” Stollenwerk added.  


The two were no strangers to ballet—or being on stage.


Stollenwerk began ballet at 6.5 years old and has since been in over a dozen productions, including multiple iterations of “The Nutcracker” and “Alice in Wonderland.”


Crawmer was dancing as early as age 4 or 5, took a break to focus on basketball, then returned to ballet a few years ago at Stollenwerk’s encouragement.


They’ve both continued to dance because it’s fun.


“Our families participate with us a lot—our parents and siblings would be in the shows with us. And it’s a good way to connect with new people,” Crawmer said. “It’s also fun because you have to really get into character so the audience knows what they’re looking at.”


“It’s a sport, but also an art,” described Stollenwerk, who one day hopes to attend ballet school and join a professional company. “You have to be very strong and stiff, but you also have to be very graceful. It’s a combination of all that, and you have to have good face expressions. You have to make it look easy, like you could do it in your sleep. There’s so much you can learn.” 


Although they’ve both previously performed in “The Nutcracker,” Stollenwerk and Crawmer said it doesn’t get old. Varied costumes and choreography, for example, leave the classic story open to interpretation. 


Ballet Quad Cities’ 2023 rendition has a queen rather than a king in the battle scene. Stollenwerk noted the contrasting white costume with red lipstick, red gloves and jeweled headdress. 


The Arabian Dance costume featured the Arabian pants and top, but the dancer performed with a flowing piece of fabric.


“It’s so fun. There are so many different costumes. And the costumes are usually all hand made,” Stollenwerk said. “Plus, ‘The Nutcracker’ has so many different scenes—a party scene, a battle scene. A whole bunch of different nationalities.”


Even Stollenwerk’s angel role is unique to this production.


“The other ‘Nutcrackers’ I’ve been in, I don’t think there’s been angels except for one of them. This was my first time getting to do this role,” she explained. “I love the choreography they do because it’s not just like you’re holding a candle and tippy-toeing around the stage. It actually has dance in it. It’s a very pretty dance.”


The performance at the Paramount was special in that it included a partnership with Orchestra Iowa. The cast danced to a live orchestra and vocalists, all of which added different sounds and even tempo than recorded music. 


It’s all part of what makes “The Nutcracker” fun, according to Stollenwerk. 


“It can be so different. They keep the original, but they can make it different,” she said.


Each performance also offers new learning opportunities. Not only are Stollenwerk and Crawmer portraying new roles—each coming with new costumes and choreography—but they’re performing with new people.


Students and other cast members come from around eastern Iowa, and professional dancers with worldwide experience come from all over the country.


“You make a lot of friends, and you learn from each other. You’re a team for each dance. The teachers are also so nice,” Stollenwerk said. “Even if you’ve done ‘The Nutcracker’ 30 times, you’ll always learn, ‘Oh, I can do this better.’”


She enjoys watching the production develop from the first practice to the final performance.


“When you’re in rehearsal, you think, ‘Oh, it’s going to take so long to come together.’ By the end of the third rehearsal, you already know your dance. By the fourth, you’re putting the acts together and you can see how it’s coming together as an actual story,” Stollenwerk said. “It’s very tiring, but so worth it.”


Both Stollenwerk and Crawmer will continue dancing—and they hope other performances of “The Nutcracker” are in their futures. There are so many different roles to play.


Crawmer envisions herself as a mirliton or party girl, performing in a group dance. Stollenwerk has her sights set on the Sugar Plum Fairy.


“It’s a lot of work, but definitely something that would be so fun to do,” she said.

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