About the Show
The Nutcracker – the Great Imperial Ballet, presents all the elements of the classic holiday spectacle. The ballet, choreographed by Peter Stark after the original by Marius Petipa, is danced to a recording of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite and includes a snowfall on stage. The fairytale story takes place in 1893 and is seen through the eyes of the young heroine, Clara. This million-dollar production will wow audiences with its splendor and romantic grace. Fabrics for the costumes came from Paris, Thailand and New York. The Christmas tree, which grows to 28 feet, features 2,500 individually-dyed ostrich feathers.
Although very traditional in look, this world premiere production holds surprises for the whole family. Along with ballet dancers, the cast of 160 performers includes flamenco dancers, Irish step-dancing, imaginative life-sized puppets, and 42 gymnasts. The cast is headlined by Jeffrey Cirio, recent Princess Grace Award recipient and Boston Ballet second-soloist, New York City Ballet Principal dancers, Abi Stafford and Jonathan Stafford, and award-winning new artist dancers from Next Generation Ballet complete this cast for a holiday show that will surely become a Tampa tradition.
PETER STARK (Artistic Director, Next Generation Ballet, Choreographer) began training with Andre and Leda Eglevsky and went on to train for eight years with Richard Rapp and Stanley Williams at the School of American Ballet. He danced leading roles at Washington Ballet, Boston Ballet and New York City Ballet. Stark was Assistant to Artistic Director, Fernando Bujones, and Interim Executive Director at Ballet Mississippi and directed Orlando Ballet School for the past decade, growing the school more than five-fold and garnering two rave reviews in The New York Times for student performances. Stark has an international reputation for coaching students to top prizes at major international ballet competitions including New York International Ballet Competition, Youth America Grand Prix and Helsinki IBC, among others. His students are dancing in every major American ballet company and he has choreographed critically acclaimed works for The Washington Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Orlando Ballet. Stark has received many honors, including Central Florida Arts Educator of the year, Florida Teacher of the year, Disney Community Service Award and was featured on the cover of Dance Teacher Magazine.
ABI STAFFORD (Guest Artist) born in Carlisle, Pa., began her dance training at the age of 6 with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, under the direction of Marcia Dale Weary. Ms. Stafford entered the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet, full time in the fall of 1998. At SAB, she performed the role of Clarinet in Jerome Robbins’ Fanfare and a role in Christopher Wheeldon’s Scénes de Ballet for the SAB’s Annual Workshop performances. Ms. Stafford was invited to become an apprentice with New York City Ballet in November 1999 and joined the corps de ballet in January 2000. She was promoted to the rank of soloist in January 2002 and principal dancer in December 2007. Ms. Stafford was named the Janice Levin Dancer for the 2000-2001 season. In spring 2003, Ms. Stafford was awarded the 2003 Martin E. Segal Award, which acknowledges the exemplary achievement of young artists.
JONATHAN STAFFORD (Guest Artist) born in Carlisle, Pa., began his dance training at the age of 8 with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, under the direction of Marcia Dale Weary. Mr. Stafford entered the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet full time in the fall of 1997. Mr. Stafford was invited to become an apprentice with New York City Ballet in October 1998 and joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet in February 1999. In March of 2006, he was promoted to soloist. Mr. Stafford was promoted to principal dancer in May 2007. Mr Stafford received the Martin E. Segal Award from the School of American Ballet in 1999 and his film work includes Columbia Pictures’ Center Stage.
JEFFREY CIRIO (Guest Artist) began his ballet training at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, where he studied privately with Laszlo Berdo. In 2006, he won the gold medal in the Youth America Grand Prix junior division finals, a bronze medal at the U.S. International Ballet Competition in Jackson and a gold medal at The Tanzolymp Ballet Competition in Germany. He joined Boston Ballet II for the 2007-2008 season. Wanting to hone his technique further, Mr. Cirio returned to intensive training with Peter Stark and Olivier Munoz in Florida. He won a silver medal at the 5th Seoul International Dance Competition, was named the Fernando Bujones scholar for 2008-2009, a silver level award in ballet at the National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts 2009 Arts Week, the Grand Prix Award and the Mary Day Award for Artistry at the 2009 Youth America Grand Prix senior division finals, and a gold medal at the 2009 World Ballet Competition. He also won a gold medal at the 2009 Helsinki International Ballet Competition, becoming the first American to do so. Cirio returned to Boston Ballet in 2009 as a corps de ballet member and was awarded the Princess Grace Fellowship for 2009. He was promoted to Second Soloist in 2010.
HANNAH BETTES (Next Generation Ballet New Artist) began dancing jazz at The Dance P.A.D. under the direction of Tera Primm at the age of 7 and continued in ballet at Central Florida Ballet. She has won many scholarships, titles and first place awards at numerous dance competitions including the Silver Medal at the World Ballet Competition 2008, placed in the top 12 at Youth America Grand Prix finals NYC in 2009, and progressed to the final round at YAGP finals NYC in 2010. Bettes trained at the School of American Ballet for the past two summers.
CAITLIN BIRT (Next Generation Ballet New Artist) from Daytona Beach, Fla., trained at Orlando Ballet School under the direction of Peter Stark where she was the Founder’s Scholarship recipient. She was a member of Orlando Ballet II for the past two seasons where she performed in many professional productions in works by George Balanchine, Fernando Bujones and Bruce Marks. Birt received the Silver Medal at the Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals and danced a Principal role at the YAGP Gala at the City Center in New York City.
DANIEL COOKE (Next Generation Ballet New Artist) from Washington, D.C., began dancing at the age of 5 with Peter Stark at Washington School of Ballet. He went on to train at Maryland Youth Ballet, Olney Ballet Theatre, City Dance Conservatory and moved to Orlando Ballet School where he was a Trainee Dancer to again work with Stark. He participated in the New York Finals of Youth America Grand Prix last year. Cooke has received scholarships to study in summer intensives at Boston Ballet, School of American Ballet and JKO School of American Ballet Theatre. He is an avid guitarist.
ELLIS ENDSLEY (Next Generation Ballet New Artist) from Ormond Beach, Fla., started his dance training at the age of 3 with his mother, Anita Endsley, a Walt Disney World producer who is a RAD certified dance teacher. His studies continued at Orlando Ballet School under the direction of Peter Stark. Endsley received a full scholarship to the Boston Ballet School and danced with Orlando Ballet in productions of Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and The Nutcracker.
DREW NELSON (Next Generation Ballet New Artist) began ballet with American Reparatory Ballet and trained at Princeton Dance and Theater Studio with Susan Jaffe and Risa Kaplowitz. He then trained at the School of American Ballet and performed in New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake and at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT, performing in American Ballet Theater’s Sleeping Beauty. For the past two years, he has been a private student under Peter Stark. He was featured in the dance documentary for TLC (The Learning Chanel), My Life As A Child. This past summer, he trained at The Royal Ballet School at Covent Garden on scholarship and was a finalist at the 2010 Youth America Grand Prix New York finals.
JULIANA RICHARDS (Next Generation Ballet New Artist), from Seattle, Wash., trained at America’s Ballet School with Paula Nuñez and Orlando Ballet School under the direction of Peter Stark. She received the Gold Medal at the Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals and participated in the New York Finals of YAGP. She partnered Gold Medalist, Jeffrey Cirio at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition and danced in many professional productions of Orlando Ballet. She has attended many summer intensive programs on scholarship including the School of American Ballet.
JOSHUA THORNTON (Lead Spanish, Parent, Mouse) began his training at age 12 at Orlando Ballet School under the direction of Peter Stark, where he studied privately with Mr. Stark. He performed with Orlando Ballet in productions including Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet and The Nutcracker. In 2009, Thornton received the Riggins-Watson Founders Scholarship at the Orlando Ballet School and was a finalist at the New York Youth America Grand Prix. Thornton performed the role of Prince in The Little Mermaid for the Patel Conservatory in May of this year. He currently resides in New York studying at The School of American Ballet on full scholarship.
JUDITH LlSI (Straz Center President) is the President of the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, which she joined on Oct. 1, 1992. With a background in theater that includes performing as both a singer and an actress, Lisi has also directed more than 40 productions and written and produced several plays and musicals, including Stage Door Canteen, Speakeasy, Busby, WAlSTWATCHERS, The Calorie-Free Musical, Wonderland: Alice’s New Musical Adventure, Godspell, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage, Respect: A Musical Journey of Women and Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits: Vol. I. Before joining the Straz Center, she served as Executive Director of the prestigious Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, Conn. Prior to her work at the Shubert, Lisi served from 1979-1984 as Artistic Director of the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Connecticut. As the Executive Producer of all Straz Center productions, she has produced many highly successful shows, including Florida’s longest-running musical, Forever Plaid, which has toured the state. Other successes include the grand opera that Lisi brought to the Straz Center, from the first production, Madama Butterfly in 1996 to the world premiere of Anton Coppola’s highly dramatic Sacco & Vanzetti in 2001 to the most recent production of The Merry Widow in 2010. She holds a master’s degree in Theatre from St. Louis University and has done doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota. She also studied opera at the Juilliard School of Music. Lisi has been the recipient of many national and international awards, including the Broadway League Award for Best Presenter and the International Society for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.
ERIC DILLNER (Artistic Producing Director) is the past artistic and general director of Shreveport Opera, managing director of Skylight Opera Theatre and artistic director of Longview Opera. Dillner has produced several commissions of new works including Corps of Discovery, a Musical Journey (currently in opera houses throughout the nation), What is Freedom, Why Dinosaurs Don’t Smoke, Why Dinosaurs Don’t Litter and Herman the Horse, a Healthy Tail (two troupes are currently touring in Iowa). He has stage directed extensively as well as performed the lyric tenor repertoire with New York City Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Swedish Radio Orchestra at Berwald Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, Brussels Festival Orchestra, at Cathédrale St-Michel, Bruxelles, Belgium, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Holland and numerous other halls throughout Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Belgium. As Pete Peterson, he appeared in the PBS Live from Lincoln Center broadcast in New York City Opera’s production of Paul Bunyan and is recording artist for the Music Masters Classics for BMG. Dillner currently holds positions as vocal instructor for V.O.I.C.Experience, Intermezzo Young Artist Program, RESONANZ Albany Singer Intensive Festival and has a private voice studio in New York City and was vocalogist with the otolaryngology clinic at University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics. Dillner is a frequently sought after master class presenter in New York City and a judge of competitions such as the Metropolitan Opera Competition and the New York International Opera Project in the United States and in Beijing, China.
MIKE RIGGS (Lighting Designer) designs dance, theater, and opera worldwide for companies ranging from scrappy upstarts to venerable institutions, and has delighted in lighting everyone from high school students to President Obama. He made his Straz Center debut last month with The Merry Widow. Recent dance: Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Matthew Westerby Company, S. Vencl Dance, Momix. Recent opera: Hansel and Gretel for Syracuse Opera, Il Trovatore and Il Trittico for El Paso Opera, Carousel and Madama Butterfly for Shreveport Opera, Madama Butterfly and Tosca for Opera Naples. Theater: founding member of One Year Lease (Teaser Cow, The Bald Soprano, Machinal, etc.) and resident lighting designer for The Debate Society (Buddy Cop 2, Cape Disappointment, The Eaten Heart, etc.) Mike is pleased this season to be designing the 40th anniversary celebration for the Kennedy Center, where he is a regular designer; and a sesquicentennial world tour for Vassar College, his alma mater. Please visit www.mikeriggsdesigns.com.
THOM J. PETERSON (Original Set and Costume Design) was born and raised in Duluth, Minn., and received a BA degree in Speech/Theatre and a minor in Art History from the University of Minnesota. He went on to receive a MFA in Costume Design from Yale School of Drama. Peterson is a member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829 NYC as costume designer since 1968 (now IATSE) and a professor Emeritus from Southern Connecticut State University where he taught for more than 30 years. Peterson designed approximately 500 productions in 15 states, including ballet, opera and theater. He conceived all of the costumes, props and settings for The Imperial Nutcracker alongside his longtime friend, Robin Welch (Artistic Director, Omaha Theatre Ballet). They set this production in 1893, St. Petersburg, the year Tchaikovsky composed it and populated it with the elegance of Imperial Russia. The costumes were constructed in five different states, original dance boots custom made, the men’s formal wear also custom made at a formal wear company, the settings constructed and engineered at Heartland Scenic Studio in Omaha. The hand props, eggs, dolls, etc. were hand crafted by Peterson in Connecticut. Fabrics were purchased in Connecticut, New York City, Omaha, Thailand and Paris. The Christmas tree, which grows to 26’ tall, is made of 2,500 ostrich plumes dyed to order in three colors. The production is a labor of creativity and love and Mr. Peterson is thrilled to be sharing it with new Tampa audiences.
LANI WINSKYE (Stage Manager) received her B.A. in Theatre Arts from the University of South Florida and has been stage managing in the Tampa Bay area for the past eight years. She is proud to be the in-house stage manager for the Patel Conservatory where she also teaches acting and stage management. Winskye is a founding member of Hat Trick Theatre Productions and serves as the company manager for this great company, where she can be found directing, designing and stage managing.
SUZANNE NELSON (Wardrobe Manager) of Kansas City has 25 years of sewing experience and her own costume and home interior design businesses. She worked wardrobe for American Repertory Ballet, Princeton Dance and Theater and has created original costumes for Youth America Grand Prix and Orlando Ballet. Suzanne has a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Nebraska. She has made many new original costumes for Next Generation Ballet and is an active volunteer in the arts, schools and her community.