Ballet Conservatory of Indpendence presents 25th annual Nutcracker
Long time resident Ulla Ames brings joy to hundreds in a Nutcracker tradition that has it's roots in the original US production
“A Nutcracker for children by children.” That's what Ulla Ames said to her mentor William Christensen as he sat across from her on the edge of his desk. Christensen and his two brothers, Lew and Harold were the very first to bring The Nutcracker ballet to American shores in 1944. Ulla studied ballet under Mr. C, as she called William, at the University of Utah. She had been sending her ballet students to audition at Utah Civic Ballet (later called Ballet West), where Mr. C directed The Nutcracker each year. Only a few would get parts, but she wanted all of her students to feel the joy of this ballet. Christensen thought the idea wonderful and gave his approval, lamenting that there were no videos of his early versions to help with choreography.
Ulla created her vision of the Nutcracker from her memories of the magical night she first saw it on her 22nd birthday. She had a Clara not a Marie, and a mother buffoon with all of her little ones around her. “Of course, our characters have increased because more children need parts!” Miss Ulla says adamantly with a twinkle in her eye. She adds, “We did have to shorten a few of the pieces of music to hold the interest of people who are non-balletomaniacs.”
Her studio performed a few years of The Nutcracker in Utah, where she and some parents sewed the costumes, some of which are still being worn today. Then, in 1987, Ulla, her family and the costumes came to Missouri. The Ballet Conservatory of Independence opened in July and the first of what would become 25 consecutive Nutcracker performances happened in December, 1988.
She and Allen (her husband of 56 years) have eight children, five boys and three girls. She choreographed the Trepak (Russian dance) for five dancers because she had five sons who were all stair step height. Allen, who knew nothing of ballet when they met, has danced the role of Herr Drosselmeier ever since their very first Nutcracker. At first, he did it for her, but now he also enjoys the beauty. Over the years, all of her eight children and almost all of her thirty-two grandchildren have danced in The Nutcracker.
Ulla says proudly: “We have always had enough boys. We have never duplicated boy parts with girl dancers,” (she laughs as she says) “I think it is because of creative costuming – we don’t make them wear tights!” She adds “We are also open to giving anyone an opportunity to perform”. Just like with her husband who knew nothing about ballet – she expects students to learn and discover joy in dancing!
Her students attest that not only have they been taught ballet correctly, but also that they have been instilled with principals of morality and character development. “She takes time out to work with individuals, even when you're not a solo part" says one 13 year old student. Miss Ulla sees the potential in her students and helps them discover it for themselves.
Ulla was born in Finland in 1942 and came to the United States at the age 21. As a child she took ballet and discovered one of her life’s passions. As she grew older, she trained and danced with the Finnish Opera Ballet in Finland. In America, she was a part of the first ballet performance at Brigham Young University in their new field house. It was Handel’s Water Music, choreographed by Joan Koralewski. She is a Royal Academy of Dance member and registered teacher for almost 40 years. She has taught ballet for almost 50 years and has had hundreds of students during her career. Thousands have seen her productions, and, for some, it was the first time in their life that they were exposed to ballet. She has choreographed and, along with her husband, produced many ballets including Cinderella, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Peter and the Wolf, Red Shoes, Little Match Girl, Hansel and Gretel and, of course, The Nutcracker.
Her legacy continues. Many of her former students, including her daughters, continue dancing, some professionally - many are ballet teachers and ballet studios started by former students of Miss Ulla dot the country.
It is an extraordinary Nutcracker performed almost exclusively by children – created by an extraordinary woman who has led an extraordinary life.
Ballet Conservatory presents the 25th annual performance of The Nutcracker December 1st 2012
Educational performances November 30th @ 10am and Noon.
Liberty Performing Arts Theatre 1600 S. Withers Road Liberty, MO 64068 Tickets available at www.balletconservatory.net
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