Laurel Ballet students gain poise, skill as they progress through ‘Nutcracker’ roles |

Laurel Ballet students gain poise, skill as they progress through ‘Nutcracker’ roles

Patrick Varine

Katie Barkley-Mastalski has been in “The Nutcracker” since she was 4 years old.

The Penn Township native has been dancing with Greensburg’s Laurel Ballet since 2004, working her way up through different roles to this year’s featured spot as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“We’ve had different teachers over the years, and each one helps you progress in a different way,” said 17-year-old Katie.

The Laurel Ballet will stage its 25th annual production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 8 and 9, backed by the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.

Artistic Director Eleanor Tornblom said Barkley-Mastalski’s experience is what she hopes every student will have.

“So many of these girls have started with little, tiny roles,” Tornblom said. “But it gives them confidence. They know they have to do a certain thing at a certain time in the show, and it has to be timed just right. And it gets them disciplined and ready for the larger roles they’ll take on when they’re a little older.”

Barkley-Mastalski’s younger sister Sarah, 14, is a perfect example. Having performed in smaller roles over the years, Sarah will take on the main female character, Clara.

“The role is really demanding, because I’m onstage for most of Acts I and II,” she said. “But we’ve looked up to these roles for so long, and it’s great to have a chance to actually do them.”

Alaina Nuzzo, 13, of Murrysville, will dance the part of the Snow Queen this year.

“I’m partnered with a male dancer, (Texture Contemporary Ballet founder and artistic director) Alan Obuzor, and that’s new and difficult,” Alaina said. “Dancing together and making it look good is challenging.”

Juliana Matteo, 12, of Penn Township, will play Clara’s younger brother and antagonist, Fritz. Juliana said portraying a little boy is a new type of challenge.

“When you take it onstage, you not only make it your own, but you also think about how your character would make a certain move,” she said.

For Lillian Black, 11, of Manor, this year’s production will require her to play polar opposite roles, that of an Angel but also a Sweet Doll.

“It’s hard to play a doll because you’re supposed to be very stiff,” Lillian said. “There’s a lot of things that would be a total no-no in another ballet. But as the angel, you have to be very soft.”

Alaina said that like most of the Laurel students in the production, she is relishing the opportunity to do more each year.

“Doing such a big part for the first time will be really cool,” she said.

Her mother Tammy Nuzzo agreed.

“She’s been able to progress up through all these roles,” Nuzzo said. “By the time some of these girls make the company, they could probably dance all of the parts from memory!”

“The Nutcracker” will be at 2 and 7 p.m., Dec. 8, and at 2 p.m., Dec. 9 at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Sarah Barkley-Mastalski, 14, of Penn Township rehearses on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, for the Laurel Ballet’s upcoming production of 'The Nutcracker,' Dec. 8 and 9 at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Juliana Matteo, 12, of Penn Township rehearses on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, for the Laurel Ballet’s upcoming production of 'The Nutcracker,' Dec. 8 and 9 at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.
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