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Arts & Extras: A 'Nutcracker' family tradition

Arts & Extras: A 'Nutcracker' family tradition

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Hannah Schallon is about to make her ballet debut, even though she’s only 8 months old.

She’ll have plenty of supporters nearby when she appears on stage in Southwest Virginia Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Her father, mother, brother and both of her older sisters are all dancing in the production.

Not to mention, the older Schallons are all practically veterans. “This is our fourth year doing this,” said Matt Schallon, 43, a research and development manager for Harris Night Vision.

“This past year and this year we’re playing Clara’s parents,” said Rachel Schallon, 39, who works as a mental health therapist. (Rachel has what she termed a “very small” background in dance and theater, while husband Matt said he has none.)

In case you need to brush up on your “Nutcracker” knowledge, Clara is to that popular fantasy tale what Dorothy is to Oz or Alice is to Wonderland. After saving the life of the Nutcracker Prince, she gets to travel to the Land of Sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and her grateful subjects.

Southwest Virginia Ballet’s performances of “The Nutcracker” take place Saturday and Sunday at the Berglund Performing Arts Center in Roanoke. Other “Nutcracker” performances in the Roanoke Valley include a staging Friday at Jefferson Center by the Moscow Ballet, and Roanoke Ballet Theatre’s production, which happens Dec. 14 and 15 at Jefferson Center. In addition, the Little Leapers will perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 15 at Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg, and Shenandoah Ballet in Buena Vista will perform the holiday staple from Dec. 20 to 22 at Washington and Lee University.

Neither of the Schallons’ real daughters dance the part of Clara, although Erin, 13, a Cave Spring Middle School student, said she would love someday to play either Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy. Nonetheless, she has several dance parts in this year’s “Nutcracker.”

It’s her third year with SVB. She has been dancing since she was 3, she said, and considers ballet “really cool. I just like how it moves fluently, and it’s graceful.”

Younger sister Sarah, 10, appears as a mouse and later as a princess, while brother Isaac, 8, plays one of the children at the Christmas party seen in the first act, and returns as a soldier.

“And Hannah’s playing a baby,” the Schallons joked. Pedro Szalay, SVB’s artistic director, worked her into the party scene.

“Pedro wanted her to be a part of it this year,” Rachel said.

In a sense, Hannah was part of the previous year’s performance, as Rachel took part while pregnant, her costume specially adjusted by volunteers. “The people behind the stage do so much,” she said.

Matt faces an additional challenge this year. SVB’s “The Nutcracker” has two casts that rotate performances, and Szalay recruited him to play one of the Mother Gingers — which means he’s had to learn how to walk on stilts, wearing an oversize dress children can hide under. During a break in Saturday’s rehearsal, he hadn’t yet tried on the dress. “I’m still getting used to the stilts,” he said with a grin.

Melrose Library feedback sought

Roanoke officials plan to hold a public meeting 6 p.m. Monday at the Goodwill Campus on Melrose Avenue Northwest to gather public feedback on a proposed art installation for the renovated Melrose Branch Library.

The artist who will be designing the installation, Napolean Jones-Henderson, wants residents and business owners from the Melrose-Orange section of the city to take part in the creative process. Jones-Henderson is the executive director of the Research Institute of African and African Diaspora Arts in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

For more information about the meeting, contact community resources administrator Keith Holland at 853-6404 or keith.holland@roanokeva.gov. For more information about the art project, contact arts and culture coordinator Susan Jennings at 853-5652 or susan.jennings@roanokeva.gov.

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Mike Allen is the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. His past beats as a Roanoke Times reporter included Botetourt County, Franklin County, courts and legal issues, and arts and culture.

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