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A tale of two Claras in Studio 4’s ‘The Nutcracker’


RKW Photography / Courtesy photo Taylor Wilson is pictured as the Mouse Queen with her band of mice in Studio 4 Dance Theater’s new production of "The Nutcracker."

Her shoulders dropped as 16-year-old Ruby Eustis-Smith scanned the cast list for this year’s Studio 4 Dance Theater “Nutcracker” ballet. She had seen a name next to the role of Clara, and it wasn’t hers. As she continued to search for her part and didn’t see her name anywhere, the dancer next to her whispered, “Ruby, look up.” Sure enough, there were two names under the role of Clara, and one of them was hers! What?

Jillian Buteau, 15, got the call on her cell phone.

“Why would (Artistic Director) Tammie Lee be calling me?” Jillian recalled thinking.

She thought

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Her shoulders dropped as 16-year-old Ruby Eustis-Smith scanned the cast list for this year’s Studio 4 Dance Theater “Nutcracker” ballet. She had seen a name next to the role of Clara, and it wasn’t hers. As she continued to search for her part and didn’t see her name anywhere, the dancer next to her whispered, “Ruby, look up.” Sure enough, there were two names under the role of Clara, and one of them was hers! What?

Jillian Buteau, 15, got the call on her cell phone.

“Why would (Artistic Director) Tammie Lee be calling me?” Jillian recalled thinking.

She thought the role of Clara was taken but learned that she, too, had earned the role.

Every year, Studio 4 Dance Theater offers a fresh version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” the classic holiday tale of Clara’s dreamlike adventures with her Nutcracker Prince. The professional-quality production has become a holiday tradition for many, with return audiences and sold-out performances year after year.

Clara is the main character in the ballet, so the dancer who portrays her is on stage almost the entire performance.

Both Ruby and Jillian described it as “the role that requires the most acting.”

“I am thrilled that two of our very talented principal dancers will be dancing the role of Clara,” Lee said. “I wanted to try something new, to give more girls this opportunity, and I am grateful that Ruby and Jillian — and Archer — were willing to chart this new territory with me.”

While Ruby has been dancing with Studio 4 Dance Theater since it was created 10 years ago and Jillian has been with the company for six years, 17-year-old Archer Bitner joined the cast as the Nutcracker Prince just this year.

“One of the Studio 4 board members asked me if I would be interested in performing with the company last summer,” Archer said. “I was excited to do it, but I had no idea I would be dancing with two different Claras.

“It’s definitely a challenge — I’ve had to get a lot stronger,” he laughed.

The two Claras and their Nutcracker Prince have become quite a team.

“I think Ruby and I dance very similarly, technically speaking, which might be the reason Tammie cast us both,” Jillian said. “But we interpret the role differently, so audiences will definitely see a different show at each performance.”

Archer agreed. “Their timing and technical abilities are almost the same. Ruby is a bit taller than Jillian, so there is a difference there, but they are very distinct performers. It’s fun to watch and adjust to their individual energies,” he said.

Ruby and Jillian play other parts when they are not dancing as Clara, so they are both in every show and actually had to learn even more choreography than if they were only portraying Clara.

The trio has been working hard on their parts since summer, yet all three wish they had more rehearsal time. And, they were surprised to discover that they all share the same favorite moment dancing together.

“In the dream scene, at the end of Clara’s solo, the music builds and Clara jumps into the Nutcracker’s arms,” Jillian said.

“We all nail that part,” Ruby added. “The music is going up and up at the end of our hard solo — it’s very dramatic and beautiful.”

Another twist in this year’s “Nutcracker” is that the mysterious and funny Drosselmeyer, who orchestrates most of the action in the ballet, is Ruby’s dad, Tim Smith.

“We have a moment during the party scene when we smile at each other and dance together,” Ruby said. “We help each other remember the steps and turns.”

“I’ve been Drosselmeyer for the last three years,” Smith said. “It’s always such fun to be in Studio 4 Dance Theater’s ‘Nutcracker,’ but I have to admit that dancing with my daughter as Clara is a dream come true.”

Studio 4 Dance Theater will present its ninth annual production of the holiday classic today (Dec. 14) through Saturday at the Bret Harte Theater in Angels Camp. Performances are 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday as well as a matinee performance at 1 p.m. Saturday. Reserved seats are available for lower-priced advance purchase at studio4dancetheater.com. The box office opens one hour before each performance.

Ruby will dance the role of Clara on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon, and Jillian will portray Clara on Friday and Saturday evenings, with Archer as their Nutcracker Prince.

Molly Johnson will return as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Damian Homer-Goltz will be her Cavalier. Madison Pelland will be the Dew Drop Fairy, Taylor Wilson will be the Mouse Queen, and Michaela Jarnagin will be the Snow Queen.

Special guest Kathy Mazzaferro will appear as Mrs. Gingerbread with all her little Gingersnaps.

“We have a magnificent cast this year,” Lee said.

Organizers said “The Nutcracker” is appropriate for all ages, and is about two hours long including an intermission with treats, warm drinks and chances to win nearly 40 raffle baskets.

There will be a “Meet and Greet” for photos with Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy and other cast members immediately following the Saturday matinee.

• What: ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet.

• When: Thursday and Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

• Where: Bret Harte Theater, 323 S. Main St., Angels Camp.

• Tickets: $9 to $20.

Info: studio4dancetheater.com