This is the 22nd year that the Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre in Cody hosted its annual Nutcracker performance. Cody's Nutcracker is all about inclusion and support from the community.
I grew up going to The Nutcracker every year in New York City. It wasn't truly Christmas time until my mom and I got dressed up and watched the ballet filled with Christmas spirit, beautiful sets, costumes and the music—I love the music.
So, when I found out that Cody has been putting on a Nutcracker performance for the past 22 years, I had to go. The music and the general storyline was the same. But there were all these parts that I had never seen before.
"Most of the Nutcrackers don't have butterflies or candy canes, and we do. It's actually very special. It really is, I think it's one of the things that makes our Nutcracker really magical," said Elizabeth Fernandez, the artistic and executive director of Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre.
Fernandez has a long history with dance. A Cody native, Fernandez went away to college for dance and eventually decided she wanted to come back to Wyoming.
"It was a tough decision in a lot of ways, because it's difficult sometimes to have that outlet for those of us who are a little more artistic. But I decided that it was exactly the reason that I should come back here," said Fernandez.
She founded the Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre in Cody. Fernandez said she knew right away she need to provide some kind of performance for the dancers.
"I realized that I wanted my dance students to have the feeling that I had in college of something that was special and that I was working for all the time. And really the most magical part of any dance company is The Nutcracker. And it was something I knew that could be sustainable here [Cody]," said Fernandez.
She certainly knows about The Nutcracker. And she is aware of the tweaks she's made in the Cody Nutcracker's storyline. While there are auditions for The Nutcracker, there aren't any cuts. Fernandez said she makes sure there's a part for everyone who puts the work in.
"We have a lot of young kids, and so there is this need to provide parts for a certain age group. I've created parts for those," she said.
Besides the butterflies and candy canes, other parts included an enchanted fairy, clowns and even a dragon. "You have to provide the next step for every step. And so you've got the little ones moving into the intermediate into the advanced."
This is part of the challenge of being a dance theatre in Cody, a town of about 10,000 people. But Fernandez said in the past 20 years or so this uniqueness to the Cody Nutcracker is what makes it so exciting for the dancers.
" They're in providing those steps, you have to find a way to put them into the story for it to make sense, and so that's why our story is a little bit different."
For Solie Jackson, a senior at Cody High School, this speaks strongly to her.
"We all know the parts for everything else, the parts [are] always changing. So you can always aspire to be a part. And then it's really cool once you get there," said Jackson.
Jackson started dancing when she was three years old. For her last year dancing in Cody's Nutcracker, Jackson is Clara, the girl the story follows, and dewdrop, one of the character Clara encounters. In The Nutcracker I've seen, Clara is played by a little girl and doesn't have a leadership part. But in Cody, she does. That's the part of the Fernandez's effort to provide suitable parts for all her dancers. If one dancer is advanced enough she offers them opportunities to dance in a higher level. This year, Jackson was able to accompany two guest artists from Ballet Arizona in a dance.
"I have never felt a feeling I feel like when I perform in front of people, especially on the stage, and putting countless hours in. I did the calculations for my college applications, like 47 weeks out of the year, I'm dancing," said Jackson
Jackson's fellow dancer EmRee Johnston chimed in.
"As soon as you get onto the stage the thrill happens because like it's so nice just looking at the audience and seeing how many like people from our community came to watch."
The community support is obvious. Throughout the entire show, the full auditorium cheered, laughed and applauded every performer from the age of three all the way up to high school seniors.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at firstname.lastname@example.org.