It was a show that gave an aspiring young ballet dancer a lead role she long dreamed of, and a former professional dancer a chance to return to the glory of her youth.
It brought together the excitement of a long tradition in the county, a Pam Nobles Studios’ Christmas show, with the season lineup of the Forgotten Coast’s leading community theatre troupe, the Panhandle Players.
It united the creativity of a professional choreographer with the excitement of young dancers, and packed the house on the both nights it ran.
It was enhanced, ironically, because of the effects of Hurricane Michael in Gulf County.
All in all, Terpsichore, the muse of dance, was shining down on the Chapman Auditorium Dec. 13 and 14, and smiling, with the production of the Ellington/Strayhorn "Nutcracker."
A jazzy interpretation of the famed ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the "Nutracker " album was proposed by the classically-trained jazz composer Billy Strayhorn, who arranged most of the nine movements, and together with American pianist, composer and bandleader Ellington, was released in 1960.
Benson, who now teaches at Pam Nobles Studios as well as around the country, had worked on an elaborate performance in Southern California of the "Nutcracker" early in his professional dance career, and decided to take it on here in Apalachicola.
To play the part of Clara and the Nutcracker, he cast two Port St. Joe High School juniors, Camille Trochessett, who has trained as a ballet dancer since Kindergarten, and Brycin Huckeba, whose burly size made for a stirring contrast to the petite Trochessett, and his athletic ability as a football player enabled him to keep up with her elaborate, trained moves.
As a ballet dancer growing up in Tallahassee, Trochessett had long dreamed of dancing the traditional role of Clara in Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece with the Tallahassee Ballet.
But her family moved to Gulf County, interrupting her Tallahassee dance training briefly before she resumed it at Emerald Dance Academy in Port St. Joe, under the direction of Barbie Walker,
After Hurricane Michael hit, and Walker was forced to close the academy and move back to Tennessee, Trochessett and a half-dozen of her friends took advantage of a generous offer by Nobles to continue their dance training in Apalachicola.
After Trochessett was cast as Clara, she suggested her classmate Huckeba might be good for the Nutcracker, and it turned out he was.
He opted for casual dress, rather than the traditional tights, while she performed her role in a green tutu, and did so masterfully, bringing out all the exquisite, young feminine elegance found in ballet.
Also capturing the fluid beauty of ballet was Apalachicola business woman Helen Willis, who in her youth had been trained as a ballet dancer in New York before opting for a family. She has since regained her form, and much of that youthful energy, and showed it in the "Nutcracker," managing to shine across from the young, and always exemplary Holly Chambers, her fellow teacher at the studio. Together they shone in "Punch Bowl," the Spanish number in the show.
To further anchor the production, Benson brought in two professional dancers, David Olarte and Isais Villafane, who filled in a glamorous piece "Sugar Rum Cherry," Ellington’s interpretation of the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy.
The Panhandle Players, too, were worked in as a key part of the show. They shared a ballroom dance in the overture, with some later appearing in dance numbers. The president, Royce Rolstad, played a speaking role as the emcee, engaging in playful banter with the audience, in front of the curtain, affording his fellow cast members a chance to change between numbers. Always a showman, his role was even more poignant given that he was notified midway through Friday’s show that his mother had passed away under hospice care at her Apalachicola home.
The Hot Flashes, and all the young dancers, drew cheers as they performed in the dances, with elaborate costuming, evocative scenery and stagecraft, and efficient choreography that turned the customary recital into a full-fledged show.
The show featured numbers such as "Toot Toot Tootie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Pipes);"The Peanut Brittle Brigade;" "Dance of the Floreadores," a variation of the Waltz of the Flowers; "Arabesque Cookie," a variation of the Arabian dance; "Chinoiserie, a take on the Chinese dance; and "Volga Vouty," the Russian dance.
With the finale came the closure of a memorable production of both Pam Nobles Studios and the Panhandle Players, a collaboration we can only hope to see more of.