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The more than two hundred skaters who bring the story of little Clara’s Christmas dream to life on the ice at Robert Crown Community Center this weekend will be marking a happy ending and anticipating a grand beginning.
This is the 45th anniversary of “The Nutcracker on Ice” at Robert Crown – and the last performance in the old building. A brand-new Robert Crown next door is set to open in January, and Recreation Department Coordinator Figure Skating Vicki Revere says the “state-of-the-art building,” with its two full-size ice rinks and many other amenities [will be] “wonderful for skaters.”
Through the years, “Nutcracker” alumnae have gone from star turns in the holiday show to acclaim in the wider world of figure skating. Kori Ade won kudos as an Olympic coach and recently relocated to Nashville to join Olympian Scott Hamilton in a new program to prepare skaters and coaches. Nicole Bobek competed in the 1998 Winter Olympics, and four years later, Melissa Gregory qualified for the Games.
But this week, Robert Crown is all about “The Nutcracker.” There is a run-through the Saturday before the show, and the Robert Crown lobby is strewn with skaters of all ages waiting their turn on the ice. No one is griping about the three-hour rehearsal or the time gaps between appearances. Enthusiasm for the production seems undimmed by age or the number of “Nutcrackers” skated.
The RoundTable stopped Sapna Suresh in the parking lot. A 23-year-old Northwestern University graduate student, she is appearing in “The Nutcracker” as a holiday guest. She says she did some figure skating in middle school and started lessons at Crown in March of 2018. At this juncture, she says, she appreciates having some “organized activities” while engaged in her studies of media psychology.
Ms. Suresh is not the only adult in the show. Neither is Isla Jakus, 4 ½, the only preschooler. Isla is with her mother, heading for a craft table thick with glue and glitter and other Christmas ornament-making supplies. Isla has been taking skating lessons for a year and is excited to be wearing a sparkly blue dress as one of “The Nutcracker” gift children.
Four veterans of “The Nutcracker” are polishing off their fast-food lunches and comparing notes on skating and the shows they have known. Claire Perkoski, 13 and a student at Haven Middle School, has been skating since she was 2. As a figure skating competitor, she spends 30 to 35 hours a week at the rink before and after school. Though she does not expect to continue skating in college, there is a reason she is dedicated to it now. “I feel happy when I skate,” she says.
Claire has been in rehearsals for her role as a royal guest for a month. “‘The Nutcracker’ is different every year,” she says, adding that each year she has “a different part [and different] group numbers.”
Madeline Wild, 16, is a student at Loyola Academy and has been skating for five years. She acknowledges that the double Lutz-double toe-double loop combination is the greatest challenge in her “Nutcracker” solo.
Though Niles North senior Olivia Yoshioka, 17, has skated in eight or nine “Nutcrackers,” she has dialed down the intensity inherent in competition and the solo roles like the Sugarplum Fairy she once skated. “I’m now focusing on school and college,” she says.
Rachel Durango-Cohen, 12, is a student at Nichols Middle School and says this is her 10th “Nutcracker.” Cheerful and friendly in real life, she plays the imposing Drosselmeyer in the show. For her, “The Nutcracker” never gets old. “It’s always different,” she says, and “it’s really fun to be with your friends but also to be with new kids. You can tell them about it.”
The coach who calls herself DG points to another reason the production is fresh each year: coaches, all of them former high-level figure skaters, choreograph their own numbers.
From the sidelines, DG watches one of her classes as they execute her figures on the ice. In constantly moving kaleidoscopic patterns, the “Nutcracker” Spanish dancers form three circles, flow into one larger circle and repeat, accessory fans held high.
A deep voice from the announcer’s booth above the bleachers calls out the next acts. Chris Hyland is a “Nutcracker” old-timer who is proud to say that the Robert Crown holiday festival on ice is one of the few in the country and as such, has generated others.
Mr. Hyland has been around long enough to have experienced some memorable disasters. He remembers the time a skater crashed into the Christmas tree (the astounding one that grows). And then there was the time an antique couch broke. It survived the rest of the show propped up from beneath by a Zamboni tire.
Some two months of practices are meant to forestall such dramas. In any case, the skaters’ hard work has provided exercise, cemented friendships and deepened confidence. The results will be on exhibit at four performances of “The Nutcracker”: Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 14 at 2:30 and 7 p.m.; and Dec. 15 at 2 p.m.