By Emily Beckett
As with all story ballets, The Nutcracker Ballet has lead roles for which dancers must audition and be selected.
In The Nutcracker, the coveted role of Clara is perhaps what many young female ballet dancers aspire to fill more than any other role in the ballet.
For 11-year-old Katherine Speaks of Clanton, her dream of playing Clara will soon come true.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, Speaks will perform alongside other students in this year’s Tri-County Nutcracker presented by C.J. Martin of C.J.’s Dance Factory in Prattville, Janey Ledbetter of Janey’s Academy of Dance in Montgomery and Tammy Rauch of Tammy’s Academy of Dance in Clanton.
Speaks is one of Rauch’s students at Tammy’s Academy of Dance.
She started preparing in June for her Nutcracker video audition in September and landed the role of Clara.
“She had to be adequate en pointe,” Rauch said about Speaks.
Those familiar with pointe know it requires more work than meets the eye.
Pointe shoes are specially made shoes designed to create the illusion that a ballerina is moving weightlessly across the stage by dancing on the tips of her toes.
Pointe shoes are made of layers of fabric, cardboard or paper bound together and hardened with glue, a combination sturdy enough to support a dancer’s weight while she dances on the toe box at the end of the shoes.
Speaks has danced since age 3, and she started pointe—which she said has been one of her biggest challenges in dance—just six months ago.
“It’s not easy,” Speaks said. “I’ve had to practice. Hard work and practicing will get you somewhere.”
And practice she did.
Speaks said she rehearsed every day during her summer vacation from school.
“Clara’s a big role, so she started preparing early,” Rauch said. “General choreography usually starts the month of August for the December show.”
Rauch said Speaks averaged two hours of private lessons and four rehearsals a week to prepare for her Nutcracker audition in September.
“I was a little nervous but mostly excited,” Speaks said. “I like performing and putting on costumes.”
Speaks is in her fourth season at Tammy’s Academy of Dance.
In 2011, she held roles as a party girl and an Arabian in the Nutcracker, and she performed in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” ballet in 2012.
Speaks said she has enjoyed her ample time onstage during Nutcracker rehearsals and forming friendships with different people in the dance world.
“The role of Clara has given her the opportunity to work with many choreographers,” Rauch said.
Speaks is the daughter of Janine and Chris Speaks. She has two siblings, Lilly, 8, and Taylor, 17.
Speaks said she wants to try out for dance team in middle school, as well as either dance team or majorette in college.
Janine Speaks said all of her time spent with Katherine at lessons and rehearsals, both in Clanton and out-of-town, has been worth it to see her daughter achieve her goal of playing Clara.
“It’s a commitment, but it’s an honor,” Janine Speaks said. “I’m thrilled. Ever since she was little, she’s had a good stage presence. She thrives on being onstage.”
Performances of The Nutcracker Ballet will be held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Clanton Conference and Performing Arts Center on Lay Dam Road.
For ticket information, call C.J. Martin at (334) 467-8603 or Janey Ledbetter at (334) 265-5299.