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This year’s ‘Nutcracker’ is a generational effort
You can catch the Christmas classic this week in Gainesville
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Back from left, Louisa Leimbach, Alexis Arria and Bailey Seymour. Front from left, Caleigh Santa Maria and Tiffany Oltjenbruns. The dancers represent high school, college and professional levels of dance in the Gainesville Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” opening this month. - photo by Nick Bowman

When Tiffany Oltjenbruns steps out on stage for Gainesville’s “The Nutcracker” this year, she will almost literally be following in her mother’s footsteps.

So too will Caleigh Santa Maria, a Brenau University freshman. Oltjenbruns, a sophomore at Brenau, and Santa Maria are second-generation dancers at The Gainesville Ballet Co.

‘The Nutcracker’

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8

Where: Pearce Auditorium, Brenau University, 202 Boulevard NE, Gainesville

More info: www.gainesvilleballet.org/performances/

How much: $14-28

“These are the daughters of the two mothers that I taught, what, 30 years ago, 28 years ago?” said Diane Callahan, gesturing to the two women sitting on the floor of Pearce Auditorium on Brenau’s campus on Tuesday, Dec. 3, during a dress rehearsal.

They came up through the ballet programs like their mothers before them, logging performances as children in “The Nutcracker” as Snowflakes or Flowers and working their way up to the named roles.

As a result, 2019 performances of “The Nutcracker” are the culmination of generations of practice, working from mother to daughter on the stage at Pearce Auditorium. The show opens Friday, Dec. 6, to the public.

And Santa Maria has a history going back even further: Her grandmother was a dancer.

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Caleigh Santa Maria poses on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Pearce Auditorium during a rehearsal of “The Nutcracker.” Santa Maria, a sophomore at Brenau University, is a longtime dancer. - photo by Nick Bowman

“I really wasn’t into it at the beginning. I would fight against going,” Santa Maria said, “but when I got into company at my home studio, I was only surrounded by people who were really into it and really dedicated to it, and it really encouraged me to become more aware of how special (ballet) is.”

Like her fellow dancer, Oltjenbruns has fallen out of love — only to fall right back in — with dancing through her years of practice.

“Seeing the potential and the capability for something you can just put your heart into and grow — see the room for growth. It’s so special to me now, looking back on it, knowing my mom was dancing here. It gives me a whole extra reason to dance. I not only dance for myself and for the audience, but I dance for my mother too.

“It just makes me so happy when she’s in the audience watching and knowing how she grew up through the school here, living some of the experiences she did, it really makes me appreciate it so much more.”

Callahan noted that Oltjenbruns’ mother played some of the same roles as her daughter.

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Tiffany Oltjenbruns, pictured Tuesday, Dec. 3, is performing some of the same roles in this year’s “The Nutcracker,” as her mother, who was a dancer at the Gainesville Ballet Co. before her. Oltjenbruns is a freshman at Brenau University. - photo by Nick Bowman

This year’s ballet includes some top first-generation Gainesville talent as well. 

Taking some of the lead roles are Bailey Seymour, a graduating senior at East Hall High School who has her eye on a professional dancing career, and Louisa Leimbach, a graduating senior at Lakeview Academy who wants to study dance in college.

It’s Seymour’s ninth “Nutcracker,” and she’s been in ballet since she was 3 years old. 

“She’s done a whole lot of parts, from the bottom all the way up because she’s one of the top dancers,” Callahan said.

From starting out as a Littlest Angel or a China Doll up to the solo roles, Seymour and fellow dancer Leimbach have seen themselves grow from attempting the most basic ballet steps to adding their own flair and touch to entire routines within a ballet like “The Nutcracker.”

Those dancing skills are the result of endless hours of practice and work on the part of the graduating seniors.

“After those long rehearsals or those long nights when you just have off days, it’s very frustrating. Why am I doing this? But then you have your next good day,” Seymour said.

A long day at ballet, she continued, might start at 2 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m.

“The Nutcracker” ends up being a good test of growth among the dancers, they said.

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From left, Louisa Leimbach, Bailey Seymour and Alexis Arria stand on point on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at a rehearsal of the Gainesville Ballet Co.’s “The Nutcracker.” Seymor is a graduating senior at East Hall High School. - photo by Nick Bowman

“‘The Nutcracker is just special,” Leimbach said.

“It is because we do it every year,” Seymour chimed in. “You get to see the girls before you, their own spin on it. You watch them, and you’ve grown up watching these dances, and then you finally get to do them. It’s a tradition. It’s just special.”

It might be most special to Alexis Arria, who knew at 8 years old that she wanted to make company in the ballet program and become a professional.

“I would stay after, because we do the little kids first, so I was a Littlest Angel,” Arria said. “After I was done with my rehearsal around two or three (in the afternoon), and I would go into the balcony and stay until 11 until the company girls were done. I would do that every day that we were in theater and just keep watching and watching.”

She told her mom she wanted to be Clara, one of the main roles, when she grew up. And she got it.

Then she wanted to be a Sugar Plum Fairy, and she got that.

Originally from Demorest, the 22-year-old professional dancer has put in time with the Atlanta Ballet Co. and the Orlando Ballet Co. dancing each day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. She’s now an instructor at the Gainesville company.

“It’s so fun to be a role model to the girls. They’re my children, I feel like,” she said, laughing.

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Alexis Arria, 22, is now a professional dancer who came up as a student through the Gainesville Ballet Co. program. - photo by Nick Bowman
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