A cast and crew of nearly 100 people from Turning Pointe Dance Studio bring to life their biannual production of “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” this November.By Amanda Wastrom | Dance Photography by Meredith
Every December when I was a little girl, my mother took me to see ‘The Nutcracker,” performed by the Boston Ballet. It was our tradition. I loved the anticipation—waiting to see how close our seats were, imagining new characters and costumes, peering down at the orchestra pit to watch the musicians warm up. Our tradition was hardly unique. Every night, the Boston Opera House was full of families making that same winter pilgrimage.
Childhood is magical. At its heart, that is the promise of “The Nutcracker” story. It is a colorful adventure where toys dance and play, and a new world is just a sleigh ride away. Oh, and there are reindeer, fairies, princesses and candy, too. With glittering costumes and sweeping music, the ballet is a child’s wildest dreams brought to life.
This November at the Tilden Arts Center at Cape Cod Community College, Turning Pointe Dance Studio will present “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker,” the school’s signature biennial dance performance that puts a Cape Cod twist on the holiday classic.
There’s a lot of dreaming going on at Turning Pointe. As Cape Cod’s only professional dance school, this East Falmouth dance studio offers students the instruction, mentoring and practice they need to turn their dreams of becoming a professional dancer into reality.
Laura Sciortino, artistic director and owner of Turning Pointe since 2005, knows all about childhood dreams. When she was in middle school, she left Falmouth for Boca Raton, Florida, on a scholarship to attend the Harid Conservatory, one of the most prestigious dance schools in the country. She was 13. “There was no doubt that this is what I wanted,” she remembers. “It was really hard to leave home. But I wanted to be a professional ballerina. And I know that it was all worth it.”
Sciortino is tall, but not extremely so. Her voice is warm and welcoming and she talks in quick staccato phrases, her tight ponytail bouncing a little. In flip flops, knit skirt, tank top and a touch of eye makeup, she is the dancer’s version of Cape Cod casual.
At 17, Sciortino left Harid and leaped into a successful professional career, dancing as a principal dancer in Milwaukee Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Channel Islands Ballet, Configuration Dance (formerly based in Harwich) and Ballet Wisconsin. She has also done guest performances (called “guestings”) and taught master classes all around the country.
In 2003, Sciortino found herself between jobs and decided to go back to Cape Cod. “I was home for the first time in 15 years. I loved being close to my family. I met my husband and I thought to myself, I think it’s time.”
She started teaching at Turning Pointe, a tiny studio started by a Hilde Maingay, owner of Alchemy Farm in East Falmouth. The dance studio was on the farm. She had 10 students. “It was a little space with a wooden floor,” says Sciortino. “Hilde didn’t want to run it anymore. She had always wished for someone to come in and take over and make it something big.”
The timing worked and Sciortino bought Turning Pointe in 2005. For her, it was the fulfillment of another lifelong dream. “In my years, there just wasn’t a school for someone who wanted to do it so seriously and professionally,” she says. “I always knew that I wanted to come back to the Cape and start a ballet school to offer kids really strong ballet training.”
Sciortino moved the school to a small building on Thomas Landers Road in East Falmouth. She has expanded twice and is adding a third “grand studio” to her current space. Built specifically for the dance school five years ago, its studios are expansive, with high ceilings, walls of mirrors, and ‘sprung’ wooden floors designed to support dancers as they leap and land. She is adding staff and expanding class offerings. “I just hired a guy from Moscow coming to teach boys’ ballet,” she says. “It’s very exciting!”
“The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker,” written by Chatham author Anne LeClaire and retired Harwich teacher Donna Smith, was conceived by two Cape Codders who were also world-class dancers and choreographers: Catherine Batcheller and Joseph Cipolla. ‘Cathy and Joe’ as they were known, founded and ran Configuration Dance, a ballet company based in Harwich. “When I returned to the Cape, I’d run into people and everyone would say, you need to meet Cathy and Joe,” says Sciortino. “I danced with them for two seasons. Amazing ballet company.
We traveled to New York. It was some of the best work I ever did.”
When Configuration Dance relocated to Buffalo, New York, Sciortino took ownership of “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker.”
“Cathy and Joe couldn’t imagine it leaving the Cape,” says Sciortino. This nautically themed version features the same Tchaikovsky music and many of the classic characters of the original—but with a hefty dusting of Cape Cod flavor.
In the ballet’s opening scene, Clara is an old woman, reminiscing about an elegant holiday party that she attended as a girl. A sea captain arrives as the party’s guest of honor (in the stead of the famous Drosselmeyer) and gives Clara a Christmas present, a ‘sea captain’ nutcracker. That night, as a wild storm rages outside, Clara falls asleep with her toy and awakens to find herself aboard a magical ship populated with mice, mooncussers and sailors. Her companion is a real sea captain who brings her to the sandy shores of an enchanted island. To her delight, Clara watches as mermaids, baby pearls, sea grass, sandpipers, starfish and jellyfish dance around her.
While much of the choreography is inherited from Batcheller and Cipolla’s original, Sciortino is always adding new elements and characters. She seems to savor all of the ways she can adapt the subject matter. This year’s performance will feature new sets and a new ship designed by Brett Baird, who also plays the part of the sea captain.
As with any production, many collaborators combine their skills and talents to bring the story to life. Artist Nancy Bundy recently did new backdrops that feature a lighthouse (Nobska, perhaps? She leaves it to the audience to decide.) Nancy Gallagher, of Sew Ballet, makes the costumes. The large cast also features a handful of professional dancers from Brazil, Australia and Japan. “The professional dancers love it,” says Sciortino. “It’s super rare to have professional dancers calling you months in advance saying, ‘guesting season is coming and we want to put The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker at the top of our list.’ They love the studio, the students and the families.”
Turning Pointe performs “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” every other year. “Mainly to maintain my sanity,” jokes Sciortino. Preparation for the performance involves weekend practices and rehearsals and coordinating a cast and crew of about 100 people. The performance also includes a silent auction that supports the studio’s scholarship fund and allows dancers to attend Dance Excellence, an international dance festival in California.
Ten years on, “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” is now a holiday tradition in its own right for many families. For Sciortino, it is also a reminder of how much she has accomplished in her quest to develop a professional level dance program on Cape Cod. “I am living my dream. I have serious dancers who come from all over the Cape to study here,” she says. “The ‘Sea Captain’s Nutcracker’ brings people together. It’s become a Cape Cod favorite for all ages.”
“The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker” will be performed at the Tilden Arts Center at Cape Cod Community College for three performances, Nov. 26-27. For more information and tickets, click here.