Ryland Carney will be performing more than the lead when she takes the stage as Clara in the Cangelosi Dance Project’s “Holiday Nutcracker.”
She’ll be carrying on a legacy.
Carney is the 12-year-old great-granddaughter of Phoebe Brantley, who founded the Phoebe Brantley School of Ballet in Baton Rouge back in the 1950s. She also founded the Children’s Concert Ballet and the Louisiana Concert Ballet in 1973.
“And she staged ‘The Nutcracker’ with those ballets,” said Kris Cangelosi, founder and artistic director of the dance company. “Now her great-granddaughter is performing the part of Clara with us.”
The Cangelosi Dance Project will perform its sixth annual “Holiday Nutcracker” at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, in the Dunham School’s Brown-Holt Theatre, 11111 Roy Emerson Drive.
Carney will be joined by a cast of dancers in a traditional version of “The Nutcracker” choreographed by Cangelosi. Among them will be a 17-year-old Syndney Hertzog, who is now dancing the part of the Flower Queen.
Hertzog is a junior at Liberty Magnet High School, while Carney is a seventh grader at Episcopal School.
“I wanted the part, because of my great-grandmother,” Carney said. “She inspired me to do it.”
Carney has been studying with Cangelosi since age 6, while Hertzog began taking dance with Cangelosi’s school at age 7, which included all six performances of “Holiday Nutcracker.”
“I think what makes ‘Holiday Nutcracker’ special is that Ms. Kris tries to find ways to change it up every year, so it’s new and inventive every year,” Hertzog said. “And I think that it’s, for me, always going to be a special honor to dance in it. And I will love doing featured parts, because it’s a very respected ballet that just brings a lot of joy.”
Well, to be honest, “The Nutcracker” follows the same story year after year, but that doesn’t matter to Hertzog. Why?
“I remember to have run while dancing in it,” she said. “I enjoy dancing on stage.”
Hertzog hopes to major in dance in college.
As for Carney, she agrees that “The Nutcracker” is a special ballet.
“What makes it special for me is this year is that I’m Clara,” she said. “And that’s really exciting, because I really wanted to be Clara. It’s been fun, but it also makes me nervous, because I have like a lot of stuff to learn. But it’s still a fun role to play.”
Hertzog, meanwhile, also knows the challenges of being Clara. She danced the role in 2019, and though it carries the biggest responsibility of telling the story, she had fun with it.
Now, as the Flower Queen, she is featured in one of the final dances that closes out the show.
“It’s an honor to do that,” she said. “And you want to make it very good and for people to enjoy. And so, while I’m doing it, I always just tell myself to smile and enjoy it, because sometimes people think that ballet is not enjoyable, but it very much is to me. Yeah. So I just try to make it look enjoyable and easy and effortless.”
The Cangelosi Dance Project’s “Holiday Nutcracker” evolved from the company’s former “Holiday Mix” showcases, which featured the second act of “The Nutcracker” at the end of the production.
“Now we just do the entire production of ‘The Nutcracker, and we use all the classic music by Tchaikovsky from beginning to end of Act One and Act Two,” Cangelosi said. “And having done all of the choreography, I’ve made it my own.”
As Carney mentioned earlier, Cangelosi also adds new things along the way.
“The show has evolved,” she said. “It depends who the talent is and the cast that I have as to what changes I’ll make. That creates a lot about what’s gonna happen, and with the people who have been with me year after year, I can develop that and kind of build on the choreography — build on the inventiveness.”
Take this year’s show, for instance. Cangelosi has made Clara more involved in the action going on around her.
“Like Ryland said, it’s challenging,” Cangelosi said. “As she gets more advanced in the ballet, her steps get more involved. There are no more single turns. Her turns are triples and quadruple turns.”
And it all combines to tell the story of Clara’s Christmas adventure.
Tickets are $20-$35. For tickets, email [email protected] or visit cangelosidanceproject.com.