Chandler sisters perform in local company’s ‘Nutcracker’ - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler sisters perform in local company’s ‘Nutcracker’

December 10th, 2021 development
Chandler sisters perform in local company’s ‘Nutcracker’

Chandler sisters perform in local company’s ‘Nutcracker’

By Srianthi Perera, Contributor

Two Chandler sisters have been chosen for plum positions in Chandler-based Southwest Youth Ballet Theatre’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker.

The Howell sisters, Sydney, 18, and Olivia, 15, will dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara, respectively, at concerts Dec. 17-19 at Higley Center for the Performing Arts in Gilbert. Tickets are $26 and the schedule is at

Sydney and Olivia are relishing their accomplishments as they look forward to battling oversized mice and celebrating their victory in the Land of Sweets on stage.

“This is my first year performing Clara. This is also my first year getting a lead role, and I’m really glad it gets to be Clara,” Olivia said.

The teens, a senior and freshman at Perry High School, were excited to learn about the roles.

“I knew my sister was ready to take on the role of Clara, and I had high expectations for her when casting came out, and considering I danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy in last year’s nutcracker, I had a feeling I would have the opportunity to do so again,” Sydney said. “I love being able to share a passion with my sister, and I am excited to perform these roles together.”

Even though both sisters have been dancing ballet for many years – 15 for Sydney and 11 for Olivia – they don’t call their roles easy.

“Clara is a role that requires you to be on stage for the majority of the time. Dancing for so long can be very physically taxing, and I’ve had to build up stamina,” Olivia said. “Not to mention the soreness of my body, I also have to balance my schoolwork with dance. I receive a great amount of work every week and it is pretty challenging to keep up.”

However, they both enjoy the limelight.

“I have been performing in front of audiences since I was 3 years old,” Sydney said. “However, my feelings toward performing have changed significantly. I used to dread performances because of how nervous I would get, but now it is what I look forward to most about ballet.”

“Performing brings out the light in me, and it is so valuable when I have rehearsed for months, to finally dance on stage,” she added.

Southwest Youth Ballet Theatre has been presenting “The Nutcracker” for 15 years, receiving its guidance from principal dancer and artistic director Yen-Li Chen.

Chen danced to critical acclaim for audiences and critics around the world until her retirement from Ballet Arizona in 2004. Her artistry made her a highly sought-after principal ballerina and guest artist, according to the ballet theater.

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet score was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The two-act ballet dating to 1892 is adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

The Chandler group’s version is a classical adaption of the ballet, Chen noted.

“The choreography and performance stay true to the original interpretation,” she said.

The group is also particular about having live music during the ballet, and not recorded music. The live music is provided by Chandler Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vanja Gjumar Nikolovski.

“We feel that the addition of live music sets our performance of The Nutcracker apart from others around the Valley, because the live Symphony provides a richer experience than recorded music,” said Mary Madine, president of the ballet theater. “This is the 12th year that Chandler Symphony has accompanied us, and it has been a fantastic partnership.”

Joining Southwest Youth Ballet Theatre on stage is former Ballet Arizona principal dancer, Alejandro Mendez, performing the role of Cavalier on Dec. 17 and former Eugene Ballet Company Dancer Kenta Taniguchi, performing the roles of Nutcracker, all shows, and Cavalier on Dec. 18-19.

Established in 2007, the group is dedicated to the development and advancement of ballet students 13-18 years of age who aspire to a professional career.

Students develop various reasons for liking ballet and, more importantly, sticking with it.

To Olivia, it’s the unique expression.

I love how ballet consists of clean and precise movements, but there is also the opportunity to stylize and make your body flow,” she said. “It really helps me express myself, and it’s so much more than just a style of dance.”

Sydney has developed such a liking to the artform that she plans to study it in college, along with her other love, working with children.

“I love ballet so much because of the connection aspect,” she said. “Dancing with someone creates a different kind of bond, a stronger bond than the ones established throughout day-to-day life.

“Even more rewarding is the ability to reach people in the audience through the beauty of movement,” she added. “There is no greater feeling than taking your bow knowing you have made an impact on someone’s day while doing what you love.”

Hence, weathering the pandemic without their favorite pastime has been difficult.

“In the very beginning stages of the pandemic, where the entire world was shocked by the new way of life, I realized how great of a loss losing ballet was,” Olivia said. “However, the extreme change I experienced when having to take classes online in my living room, and not being able to perform, really highlighted my love for the art form.

“I never realized how much I appreciated, and I learned not to take a single moment for granted,” she added.

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