Ballet Slipper Conservatory welcomes a magical season with “The Nutcracker”
— Created December 7, 2022 by Melanie Hammons
By Melanie Hammons
For one weekend only, The Ballet Slipper Conservatory, under the direction of Diane Geragotelis, promises a dazzling production of “The Nutcracker.” Set against a background of gingerbread and candy cane cutouts, the performances Saturday and Sunday at Oak Harbor High School will combine music, innovative costuming and choreography to showcase the artistry of dance in spectacular fashion.
Geragotelis, affectionately known as “Miss Diane” to her students, teaches only classical ballet, calling it her passion. In all their productions, it’s the choreography that comes first, then the costumes, but those elements, along with the music, form essential parts of a much-loved ballet such as “The Nutcracker.”
“Choreography is all about creating pictures. It’s not like you start out with a plan. When you create a ballet, there’s nothing in front of you but the music . . . I can’t really explain it, but the music tells me what to do,” Geragotelis said.
On the surface, that may sound like a straightforward task, but it turns out there’s a great deal of multi-tasking that goes into that process.
“During each musical segment, I ‘visualize’ what each dancer is doing, separately. So in the same dance sequence, I may have to choreograph four different versions during the same number,” she said.
And the multi-tasking, or perhaps just “many tasking,” extends to the creation of those costumes, all of which belong to The Conservatory. Over the years, Geragotelis has sewn and created all of them by hand, explaining that she didn’t want kids to have to pay for expensive costumes.
“But when we first started, I didn’t even really know how to sew,” she said, laughing. “My mom and I sort of collaborated together to create patterns. Sometimes, we turned out costumes created without a pattern. It was different because we’d never sewn ‘stretch’ fabrics before.
“Some are quite time-consuming,” Geragotelis continued. “When we did ‘The Lion King’? That required 144 costumes!”
Great attention to detail goes into each of the Conservatory’s productions. Even the stage props – the fetching gingerbread and Christmas candy cut-outs, are hand created, said Geragotelis. “My cousin hand-painted those candy decorations. They ‘dangle’ right above the stage, fastened by fishing line. All of them were cut out by my husband or my dad.”
She said she can mention many favorite moments and memories from all their past productions.
“’The Nutcracker,’ it’s a holiday event, and so magical. It just goes along with the spirit of the holiday season we’re in. And I really liked our ‘Mary Poppins’ production, too.”
Geragotelis singled out the uniqueness of ‘The Lion King’ because “it was all animals. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how successful that one would be, but what a happy surprise it was.”
It was during the 30 years of teaching at The Ballet Slipper that the inspiration for The Conservatory was born.
“The Conservatory, separate from the ballet lessons themselves, is a nonprofit, performance-based entity. It came into being about 10 years ago. Since that time, we’ve seen much greater community involvement, which we can largely attribute to the extra advertising we now receive,” she said.
“The most amazing result of that is a much greater cross-section of the community now form the audience,” she continued. “It’s no longer just parents and relatives.”
Lest it seem The Conservatory’s productions are limited to stage venues only, Geragotelis said some of the most rewarding performances are in the benefits they occasionally do.
“For example, this morning we gave a short performance for the residents at Summerhill. They are not able to attend regular performances for the most part. So we brought the performance to them,” she described. “Of course, we couldn’t do the entire ballet; it was just a small segment of dances from ‘The Nutcracker,’ but how pleasant it was to see their faces light up. That’s something we couldn’t do for the past couple of years because of the pandemic; it’s nice to be able to return to that.”
Other rewards of teaching classical ballet, she said, are found in the lives of the young dancers themselves.
“Some of my dancers start at age 4 with me. They may continue lessons until the time they head off for college. And then, they come back,” she said. “We spend so much meaningful time together. And in those moments, I’m honored to teach them my passion, ballet. I hope, through the lessons, the preparation, and the performances, that I help them experience that spark of, ‘this is something I want to do, have to do.’”
She described how that drive manifested itself in the life of one of her former students quite recently.
“She was one of those who started lessons at age 4 with me. And she has turned out to be a beautiful choreographer in her own right,” said Geragotelis.
She shared that the former student was asked to audition for Ellensburg Dance Ensemble’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” and was chosen for the role of Alice.
And in a nice touch, or even a tribute to the magical allure of “The Nutcracker,” Geragotelis said her former student has also been selected as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Ellensburg’s “Nutcracker” production.
The Ballet Slipper Conservatory’s rendition of The Nutcracker will take place this Saturday and Sunday at OHHS auditorium, 1 Wildcat Way, Oak Harbor. Saturday performances are 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday is 2 p.m. only. Ticket prices start at $11. All reserved seating is currently sold out, but general seating may still be available. Please no flash photography during the performance, but photos with no flash are allowed. For more information about The Conservatory or the performance, contact tbscoh.org.