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A Family Invested: Preperation for Youth Dance Theater’s Annual Nutcracker Production

Community High School graduate Melissa Krienke performs ballet in the Nutcracker.

Several dancers sit around in the halls of Dance Arts of Chelsea’s studio, taking breaks in between rehearsals, fixing their tights, and stretching. Others are anxiously waiting for costume fittings and adjustments. It’s that time of year again: preparation for Youth Dance Theatre’s (YDT) production of The Nutcracker has begun, and the Krienke family is well accustomed to these tiring months of work.

For many years, the Krienkes have volunteered their time generously helping with many of the YDT winter and spring productions. This year is no different.

Natalie Krienke, 13 years old and one of many YDT dancers, practices seven to eight hours during the school week, and around five hours on Sunday when rehearsals are held. She is no stranger to the days spent solely on dance, as she has been at the same studio since 2008. This year Krienke finds the Nutcracker rehearsals more stressful, and she believes this is mainly in part to her increased homework load.

Community High School graduate Melissa Krienke performs ballet in the Nutcracker.

Her mother, Robin Krienke, explains that with bigger roles comes longer rehearsals and additional stress. Her oldest daughter, Melissa Krienke, a Community High graduate, was at the studio for eight hours a day many times. In fact, Melissa had nothing else going on in her life as it got closer to the Nutcracker, according to her mom.

As for herself, Ms. Krienke is one of two costume mistresses for YDT. Her job is to measure all the dancer’s sizes, organize costumes and tell the other costume head what adjustments are needed.

“For The Nutcracker, I spend close to 200 [volunteer] hours,” said Ms. Krienke.

The costume department as a whole works up to 600 hours just for one show, but a parent only has to volunteer 40 hours a year. Simple volunteer work includes running the ticket desk at performances, ushering and, like in Ms. Krienke’s case, preparing dancers for the show.

Prior to her work with YDT, Ms. Krienke had no experience with costumes. Now a great amount of her free time is consumed with ballet-related work. After organizing the outfits and taking measurements, she reports to her fellow costume mistress, and explains to her partner what type of sewing needs to be done.

For every performance, costumes must be adjusted, sometimes more than once. There is usually an addition of one or two new dancers for each performance, but there is always a constant loop in the costume department, as outfits are reworked all the time. Each costume is added upon year by year.

“…Of course dancers’ bodies change over the year, so even if they use the same costume next year, it has to be adjusted,” said Ms. Krienke.

During the final week of preparation, Ms. Krienke has no time for anything but last-second costume work, and the rest of her family is usually occupied with volunteering or preparation as well. Whether it’s her daughter preparing for the big show, or her husband John Krienke, working with the YDT board and running the company’s website, the family is always occupied.

Lydia Krienke, a sophomore at Community, explains just how difficult it is for her family during the final week of production.

“For the dancers and [the moms] it’s insane. Everybody is going everywhere and it’s crazy,” said Lydia.

Lydia has been volunteering with YDT as long as her sisters have been dancing in its productions. Typically, she helps in the costume room with her mom, sewing, even though she explains she is not very good at it. For this year’s performance, Lydia even organized an ensemble of Community jazz band members to play at intermission.

In addition, she notes that the stress of preparation is more noticeable for the rest of her family.

“For me, [it’s] just kind of hanging out,” said Lydia.

But for Ms. Krienke it’s crunch time. “I always say my house is a ‘production week mess’… but [The Nutcracker] is just a fabulous thing for kids to be involved in.”

Wendi Dubois, YDT’s artistic director, agrees. According to Dubois, The Nutcracker not only help the dancers with their form and technique, but it also teaches them to collaborate productively as a group. She also notes that The Nutcracker has an effect on the community as a whole.

“The production enriches the lives of community members in a number of ways. First, for many folks, this might be a first experience with dance or even with the arts, as we’re an affordable group to see. Second, the Nutcracker tends to become a beloved holiday tradition for many people. We have lots of returning audience members who can’t wait to see Drosselmeier, hear the cannon, or see the battle [scene],” said Dubois.

To produce such an important show, help is needed in many forms. Brenda Stevens, the secretary at YDT, confirms that the Krienkes have played major roles in assistance for the show.

“Robin Krienke has been instrumental in organizing a fleet of seamstresses on Sundays to complete the hundreds of costumes used in the production… John Krienke currently sits on our Board of Directors and [has] played a huge part, and continues to do so, in renovating our website. Lydia Krienke is our #1 non-dancer-sibling volunteer. She has done plenty of [sewing, organizing, supporting],” said Stevens.

Since 1998, the memories of The Nutcracker have been experienced by audiences from all across Michigan. Like every year, the dancers at YDT practice and prepare not only for themselves, but for the enjoyment of the crowd.

“At YDT, dancers are taught that the performance is not about them as dancers and artists. The effort given on the stage is for the audience. It is a time to give back to those who support the training, who support the arts, who support the magic,” said Stevens.

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A Family Invested: Preperation for Youth Dance Theater’s Annual Nutcracker Production