‘The Nutcracker’ to deliver Springfield early holiday gift of dance

Ohio Performing Arts Institute has cast of 120 for 34th annual showing.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

With the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie season behind us, it’s time to serve up “The Nutcracker,” Springfield-style.

The Ohio Performing Arts Institute’s (OPAI) holiday tradition will return at full strength with the 34th annual version of the holiday classic at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Clark State Performing Arts Center. The show is appropriate for all audiences.

Whereas the previous three “Nutcracker” productions were scaled back somewhat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including only a filmed version in 2020, co-directors Scot and Amy Davidge are glad to have a larger cast in 2023. There will be 120 on the Kuss Auditorium stage, which will range from newcomers to seasoned performers.

“We’ve been slowly chipping away at bringing it back to that level,” said Amy Davidge.

Usually, the production is presented around a week before Christmas, but will instead be the first two days of December, the second time in three years. This brings a unique challenge in having to prepare earlier and negotiating the Thanksgiving holiday, meaning some cast members are unavailable to rehearse due to traveling and other commitments.

“We plan it early, and we love doing it early, and we’ve been doing it for a long time,” Amy Davidge said. “With all the kids and parents, we still have fun.”

Having OPAI alumni back to help out is always welcome. Some parents who performed years ago now have children dancing.

A pair of high school seniors are making this a memorable part of their years. Kenton Ridge student Ella Smith is in her 12th “Nutcracker,” playing the Flower Queen this time out, recalling when she was one of the youngest and is now one of the leaders.

“It’s different, being with new girls and taking them under my wing and wanting to remember my experience with them,” Smith said.

She’ll attend Bluffton University next year and may end up in the audience then, but is using this possibly final performance as motivation to do her best work yet.

“This is such a special ballet, and I’ve always wanted to watch it, but I can’t imagine a December not being in ‘The Nutcracker,’” Smith said.

Shawnee senior Heather Hare is having her mood lifted in 2023 by being physically lifted. She’s gone from three lifts in 2022 up to 15 lifts as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“It’s super cool, you get to learn partnering, dancing for two and it’s a rush. I love it,” she said.

While it’s only Hare’s fourth “Nutcracker,” she wants to continue beyond her prep years. She’ll attend nearby Cedarville University, hoping to balance classes with dancing on the side.

“I love rehearsals and don’t want it to end, I’m having so much fun,” Hare said. “I just love to dance. I don’t think I can stop.”

Amelia Clairmont is a late-bloomer who didn’t start dancing seriously until she was 21. Now in her seventh “Nutcracker,” she’ll be in her late 20s playing the lead of Clara, who is about 15 in the story and feels she’s just getting started.

“It’s a good irony. Age is just a number, and this is a huge honor to play Clara,” she said. “Dancing is becoming an addiction. I haven’t gotten all the leads yet, so I can’t turn in my ‘Nutcracker’ card yet.”

Another OPAI tradition is having members of the Smith family perform, and this year Micah Smith will take on the Nutcracker and Prince roles, while sister Moriah has returned home to play the Snow Queen and brother Isaiah will also dance.

“It’s cool to keep up the tradition,” Micah Smith said.

As 2024 will mark the milestone 35th OPAI “Nutcracker production, Amy Davidge said the organizers are already working to make it special.


What: “The Nutcracker”

Where: Clark State Performing Arts Center, Kuss Auditorium, 300 South Fountain Ave., Springfield

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2

Admission: Adults $19-25, students $17-23 (plus fees)

More info: 937-328-3874 or go to pac.clarkstate.edu/shows/2023-2024-season/

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