Big Park Community School sixth-grader Mari Chang loves math and science, reading, singing and also practices ballet 30 hours a week.
Chang, who has been dancing since she was 3 years old, will be performing as Clara — a young girl who receives a magical nutcracker for Christmas — in a Saturday matinee performance of “The Nutcracker,” presented by Phoenix Ballet director Slawomir Wozniak at the Sedona Performing Arts Center.
Twenty-five other local children will be performing in the ballet, as angels and mice. The 11-year-old will also be performing as demi soloist in the White Roses divertissement, as well as various roles throughout the weekend.
She said she loves Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballets, especially “The Nutcracker.”
“One year, directors of the Master Ballet Academy came and presented ‘The Nutcracker’ in Sedona,” Chang said. “I was completely in awe and knew it was for me. I really like the sets of ‘The Nutcracker’ and how they are designed.”
Performing as Clara is exciting, Chang said, as the role is just as much an acting part as it is a dancing part.
“I’ve been told I’m a good actor,” she said. “It’s a lot of facial expression but when you can’t see so you use your arms in a way to make it more dramatic.”
Chang said the balance between school and dance can sometimes be a little challenging but in the end, she always gets through it. Her teachers and principal at Big Park Community School work with her to make a special schedule so she can get all her homework done.
“It’s not so stressful — sometimes it is but in the end I always get it done,” she said with a sigh. “After I get it done, it’s chill.”
But a big part of ballet, she said, is developing a thick skin.
“There are a lot of corrections,” she said. “Once you develop thick skin, it’s not so hard. The other part is staying on balance.” Chang said she aspires to study ballet after high school and wants to be part of the American Valley Theatre ballet company.
She said she also wants to dance in other Tchaikovsky ballets because she loves the way he composes music. “I really want to be Black Swan,” she said. “It’s a really hard part but something to shoot for.”
Jessica LeBlanc of Sedona will also be performing in “The Nutcracker” as the doll in the first act and a soloist in the Mother Ginger divertissement.
“[‘The Nutcracker’] has always been a holiday staple and I love the music,” she said. “It was kind of a surprise of to me; it came out of nowhere. Suddenly, I just wanted to dance ‘The Nutcracker.’”
The 17-year-old began her ballet studies less than three years ago but has already trained with teachers at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale and with Achmed Valk in Sedona. LeBlanc has also trained with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, as well as other programs around the country.
Despite her speedy progression, she said she sees her own set of struggles with starting later in life.
“The biggest struggle is physical and mental,” she said. “You see all these little girls who have been dancing for so many years; I have so much work to do.”
Like Chang, LeBlanc aspires to dance professionally in the future and is determined to make it a reality. The hard work she puts in, she said, is all worth it.
“It’s different when you’re on stage, you don’t even think about the physical part about it anymore,” she said.
“The Nutcracker” will be at the Sedona Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are available online at the Sedona Chamber Ballet website, and are $45 for the center orchestra section and $30 for the rest of the theater sections.
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