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2023 Nutcracker Review 

The Sedona Dance Academy gave its fourth annual “The Nutcracker” showcase to a standing room-only house at the Phillip England Center for the Performing Arts in Camp Verde on Saturday, Dec. 9.

SDA founder Jessica Phillips noted that the show has been in preparation since August, “which is actually quite quick for these kiddos to learn all this choreography.”

Rather than being a full performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, the showcase used the framework of the original ballet as a loose structure for SDA students to show off their skills in a series of variations on the variations of the original.

For the party scene with which “The Nutcracker” opens, Phillips had adjusted the choreography to enable the participation of some of her youngest students, and kids putting on shows is, after all, a natural part of a holiday party.


SDA’s adult dancers, led by founder Jessica Phillips in white as Mrs. Stahlbaum, perform a contradance during SDA’s fourth annual performance of “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Daulton Venglar/Larson Newspapers.

The older kids in effect formed a mini-corps under the leadership of Fritz, played by Rupert Israel, and Clara, played by Sophie Walther. The children’s galop, on the other hand, was danced to excellent effect by the adults as a contradance. Lee Israel made an effective Drosselmeyer, full of tricks half in and half out of E.T.A. Hoffman’s century, with levitation and lambent lights. His three wooden wind-up girls tried to dance with Clara and Fritz, but the Stahlbaum kids decided to play hard to get. Rupert’s gleeful sauciness fit the Fritz role perfectly, especially in his overexcitement when Drosselmeyer finally gave him the sword and he got carried away.

The end of the party scene was the point at which the ballet’s usual plot began to change. Instead of returning to the tree in the middle of the night to check on her nutcracker, Clara fell asleep on the sofa with the nutcracker in her arms. Then came the rats, led in this instance by a Catwoman-like Rat Queen, danced by Melle Glatt, to strut their stuff in the dim red glow of the lights. They unwound a slowly menacing modern number to music that certainly was not written by Tchaikovsky but might have been written by Hans Zimmer.



The Rat Queen, played by Melle Glatt, leads her band against Clara before Clara gets the better of them (below). Photos by Daulton Venglar/Larson Newspapers.


The Rat Queen snatched the nutcracker from Clara, who snatched it back and, after having been flung around by the rats for a bit without her Nutcracker Prince coming to the rescue, clouted the Rat Queen herself. La rat morte, la reine morte. The toy soldiers came tap-dancing along, again to a remixed score, only to find that Clara had already taken care of the job. A group of snowflakes, members of one of SDA’s more advanced classes, fluttered along in their wake under the leadership of Sofia Wolf as the Snow Queen and improved their waltzing continuously throughout to a strong, well-executed and attention-grabbing finish for the first act.


Sofia Wolf as the Snow Queen leads the Act I finale of SDA’s fourth annual performance of “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Daulton Venglar/Larson Newspapers.

Act two began with the arrival of the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced by guest performer Eastlyn Jensen of Ballet Arizona. Acting initially as mistress of ceremonies, she drew back the curtain on the sugarplums themselves, another of the junior classes in palest purple-tinted angel costumes.


Guest artist Eastlyn Jensen of Ballet Arizona makes her entrance in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo by Daulton Venglar/Larson Newspapers.

The divertissimenti followed quickly thereafter and were made more diverting by the modifications that Phillips introduced, beginning with the Spanish movement, for which she choreographed a tango variation in which dancers in sinuous red dresses formed a series of harmonious pictures.


SDA students bring on the Spanish style in the second act of “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Daulton Venglar/Larson Newspapers.

Mother Ginger was up next, sans hoopskirt; this Mother Ginger, played by Deborah Williams, literally elevated the role by striding on from stage right on stilts. This scene was a merry dance indeed, with her and her ginger children both stamping along to Tchaikovsky’s vigorous score with its sampling of the French classic “Cadet Rousselle.”


The ginger children emerge from beneath Mother Ginger’s stilts, a twist on the traditional hoopskirt. Photo by Daulton Venglar/Larson Newspapers.

The Arabian variation was performed by younger dancers than is usual, again back in the modern style, and was followed by the Marzipan sequence, here danced by the senior ballet class with grace and good rhythm. As for the Russian divertissiment, it jazzed the show up with a freestyle party for the younger dancers to a high-energy remix of the composer’s original writing through which the original theme tripped in flashes.


Phoebe Jones made an elegant and confident Dew Drop in the subsequent Waltz of the Flowers, marshaling her buds with poise. Having no cavalier for a tarantella, the Sugar Plum Fairy danced her solo instead, with clean power and apparently tremulous but perfectly controlled pointe work. And then the stage filled with more and more of the dancers for a final waltz, and then there were all of them — and the Rat Queen was still quite dead, thanks to Clara.


Former professional dancer brings ballet classes to Sedona

By Michael Dixon

February 12, 2021

After spending much of her life in ballet as a dancer, Jessica Phillips retired in 2018 and began teaching. Upon moving to Sedona from Phoenix in August of 2020, she saw that Sedona didn’t really have any ballet classes and sought to change that.

So, for the last several months, she’s been teaching ballet classes at Sedona’s Sun Moon Studio.

“We’ve had a really nice turnout,” Phillips said. “I have 35 and counting students. What I am about is offering quality dance and quality performing arts to the community here — to the kids and I have a few adult classes, as well.”

In December, Phillips’ students performed at the Sedona Creative Life Center. She is planning on having another performance in the spring and hopes to make those a tradition. Phillips hopes that future shows might take place in times when COVID-19 isn’t so prevalent. With that, they can be seen by more people in the community.

Phillips has been pleasantly surprised by the reception she’s received, which began immediately after she decided to move to Sedona. The support has come from people in the community as well as from the enthusiasm of her students.

“Even in these times, I haven’t gotten any pushback,” Phillips said. “There’s been nothing but support. If people haven’t been comfortable, they’ve expressed to me, or their parents have expressed, that when vaccines come out that they’d like to take the class.”

“A lot of these students are new — so we’re starting from the ground up,” Phillips said. “And I can say, wholeheartedly, that Sedona kids — or maybe it’s just small town kids — they are so receptive.”

That’s an opinion shared by Dyllan Innes, who teaches ballet with Phillips and also instructs the hip hop and jazz dance classes. Like Phillips, Innes has a lot of experience in the world of professional dance. Innes said that when she and Phillips first talked, they both noted that they had previous experiences in the dance world that were “toxic” and wanted to avoid creating that setting.

That’s worked well.

“It’s been really nice working with these new students,” Innes said. “I was kind of expecting something different. But they’re all super focused and attentive. It’s been super fun. It feels like normal again — a little bit. It’s great. It’s been so nice and I’m grateful for it.”

And the students have been just as grateful.

One of the newer students, 6-year-old Arantza Esquer, said that she’s happy to have the chance to do ballet because “she’s always wanted to be a ballerina.”

Other more advanced students compare this experience favorably to ones they’ve had in the past.

“I have a younger teacher who can show me how to do certain moves,” said 12-year-old Sofia Wolf, who’s been in ballet for six years. “And it’s more advanced and more enjoyable. There are many visual explanations. It’s easy to learn and the teacher is very easy to work with.”

“The other classes that I’ve taken have been really stressful,” added her classmate, 10-year-old Gianna Wilson. “It’s really fun. It brings out your inner self and gets your mind off of stressful things.”

Phillips noted that COVID-19 hasn’t presented many significant obstacles. She has had to be more conscientious of limiting class sizes to allow for adequate social distancing, as ballet is not suited well for wearing masks. But Phillips added that the class sizes in the COVID era — roughly 13 to 15 students — are about the same size as they would be if COVID-19 didn’t exist, as anything bigger would not allow for proper attention for each student.

Anyone interested in signing up for a class — either for themselves or their children — should contact Phillips via email at

“Ballet is the foundation to all forms of other dance,” Phillips said. “So it’s really important if you want to be a dancer to have a strong foundation in ballet first and foremost.”



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