When Haley Williams was in second grade, she went to see her first production of “The Nutcracker.” Wide-eyed and mesmerized by the dancers who seemed to float across the stage, she was taken in by falling snowflakes, glittering lights and magic of the production.
As a child, Williams knew Clara — the female lead character in the ballet featuring Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s compositions — as a small, dark-haired girl.
Now, for children in Greater Bangor, Clara is a graceful, blonde young woman: Williams. Her real-life brother, Nathan Williams, is their Fritz, Clara’s brother.
Haley Williams, a 19-year-old student at the University of Maine, isn’t your “typical” dancer. She didn’t begin dancing until she was about 8 years old. It was the magical “Nutcracker” performance that led her to ask her mother if she could take classes, to which her mother replied, “let’s sign you up.” Her brother, who is a sophomore at Brewer High School, started soon afterward.
The siblings have danced in Robinson Ballet’s “Nutcracker” as Clara and Fritz, the onstage sister and brother, for three years. This season’s “Nutcracker” will be their fourth.
But it was uncertain what would happen with the roles when Haley Williams started college.
“I didn’t know if I was going to continue ‘The Nutcracker’ when I went off to college, and Nathan was the one who convinced me to keep doing it,” she said. “He was part of the reason why I came back. When you spend that much time investing in each other and the company, when you spend that much time learning from each other, it’s hard to let go.”
Lori Williams, Haley and Nathan Williams’ mother, said the playful characters of Clara and Fritz reflect their own relationship as brother and sister. Because the two have been dancing for so long, ballet has become an important part of their family dynamic.
“We have a family ballet culture,” Haley Williams said. “It’s something that we all can appreciate.”
The Williamses aren’t the only ones who see dance as a family affair.
Next door, at Thomas School of Dance, home of Bangor Ballet, 12-year-old Sophie Wirta and 13-year-old Elise Dudley are never alone in their journey as young dancers. Their mothers, Marnie Wirta and Cindy Dudley, are always close by. But it’s the way they help that makes them a unique part of their daughters’ ballet experience.
Marnie Wirta and Cindy Dudley are part of a core group of women who create the costumes for the Bangor Ballet performances.
For Sophie Wirta and Elise Dudley, ballet is an integral part of their lives — even at home, where they use kitchen counters and tabletops to stretch and where the glitter from their mothers’ costume-making seems to permanently coat most surfaces.
“I really couldn’t imagine it any other way,” Elise Dudley said.
Marnie Wirta was never a dancer herself, but Sophie Wirta’s love for dance was always apparent.
“I like how if I’m having a bad day I can show my emotions through dance,” Sophie Wirta said.
Cindy Dudley, however, was a dancer when she was young and hoped one of her own children would express an interest. Elise Dudley did at a young age, but traveling to Bangor from Winterport, their town of residence, left Cindy Dudley with multiple trips back and forth every day. Her involvement in costuming began when she asked what she could do to occupy her time if she stayed in town.
From gluing and glittering to sewing and fitting, Marnie Wirta and Cindy Dudley are part of a group that help each show come together. The next thing on their agenda is the costumes for Bangor Ballet’s “Nutcracker in a Nutshell,” an abridged version of “The Nutcracker,” featuring traditional and original choreography and costumes.
“It’s a little shorter, which might work well for families with younger children,” Jane Bragg, co-founder and executive of Bangor Ballet, said.
In Bangor Ballet’s “Nutcracker in a Nutshell,” Sophie Wirta will play a mouse and a flower, dance in “Spanish Chocolate” and has a duet called “Mirlitons.” Elise Dudley will be a snowflake, a flower, a demi-soloist in “Flowers,” Madame Ginger and an understudy for Dew Drop.
For Robinson Ballet and Bangor Ballet, the Nutcracker performances are their largest productions each year. A fan favorite, families come from far and wide to see the performance.
“We do our ballet to please the crowd,” Stevie McGary, executive director of Robinson Ballet, said. “The storyline is basically the same. That’s what the audience is looking for.”
In addition to “The Nutcracker,” the ballet companies will feature other several shows as part of their season. Robinson Ballet will perform “Aladdin,” based on the story in “The Thousand and One Nights,” 3 p.m. May 21 and 22 at the Brewer Performing Arts Center. Bangor Ballet will perform “Sleeping Beauty,” April 9 at the Bucksport Performing Arts Center and April 10 at the Gracie Theatre.
Robinson’s Ballet performances of “The Nutcracker” will take place 3 and 7 p.m. Nov. 21 at University of Maine at Machias; 3 p.m. Dec. 5 at Gould Academy; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 12 and 2 p.m. Dec. 13 at The Grand in Ellsworth; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and 3 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Collins Center for the Arts with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
Bangor Ballet’s performances of “Nutcracker in a Nutshell” will take place 4 p.m. Nov. 15 at Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft; 7 p.m. Nov. 21 and 4 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Gracie Theatre in Bangor; and 4 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Bucksport Performing Arts Center.