December 20, 2012

Dancing 'The Nutcracker' on both sides of the border

Local girl is sole young American in Canadian 'The Nutcracker'


---- — BEEKMANTOWN — Madison Cleveland’s world is a stage of dance.

“Dancing is my love,” said the freshman at Beekmantown Central School. “It makes me happy. My passion is to dance.”

She first placed her fingers on a ballet barre at age 3 in New Jersey. When her family relocated to the North Country, she continued her studies with the North Country Ballet Ensemble at age 6. She has performed in the ensemble’s annual “Nutcracker” productions, dancing the roles of Bon-Bon, Mouse, Angel, Claire, Snow, Waltz, Party Girl, Candy Cane, Russian, Arabian and Soldier Doll.

“I remember after my part was done and the little kids went off, we watched the older girls,” Cleveland said. “I would sit backstage and say, ‘Wow. I want to be like them.’”

When she was 9, her mother took her to a see a “Swan Lake” production by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal at Place des Arts.

“The theater was huge,” Cleveland said. “When the dancers came on, it was just magical. It was amazing. They glided across the stage with such grace.”

After the performance, she went to the stage to get a keepsake feather.

“I turned around, and I looked up at the theater. I saw the balcony and all the seats. It was just amazing. I knew I wanted to perform there.”

For the past three years, she has.

This season, she has three “The Nutcracker” performances behind her and six to go to fulfill her contract with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

“This year, I got an even better part. I got Oriental,” Cleveland said.

Her costume is turquoise harem-style pants and a top.

“It shows your belly. It has jewels over it and beads, and it’s all handmade. It’s beautiful. It’s not as heavy as the Angel costume (two previous roles). It’s also very light. You wear your hair in a flat bun, so you can put the hat over it,” she said. “The costumes, you feel so beautiful in them. You feel you can do anything.” 

Her biggest choreographic challenge is wrangling a 10 feet by 10 feet rectangle of silk.

“It’s very hard to control. We have to lift it up and down with six girls,” Cleveland said.

Three years ago, she was among the slew of dancers waiting for a grand chance in September.

“You go upstairs, and there are lots and lots of girls who all want the same role as you. There are times for certain roles, for Oriental, for Angel and all the different roles you can play. They teach you a little section of the roles, and they line you up in groups. The director selects the people he wants on one side.”

Her first audition out, she was chosen for Angel.

“It felt great,” Cleveland said. “I was under contract with them. They all speak in French, and I’m not very good in French. I have to find someone to translate for me. The French was the biggest challenge.”

For Angel, she wore a heavy, golden costume.

“You have to wear a golden wig. Backstage, you put on wings and a halo. They must weigh 10 pounds altogether. Once you’re onstage, you forget about the heaviness, and you go on. It’s amazing,” Cleveland said.

In subsequent auditions, she found the process easier.

“I was more excited this time,” she said. “It was so exciting last time. I had such a great experience. I said if I get in again, I can have another great experience. I love performing, and I love making people happy. I go onstage, and I see all the people out in the audience; it feels so amazing and so powerful. If I could perform all the time, I would because it’s my favorite thing to do.” 

Cleveland dances three to four hours a day between the Adirondack Dance Academy, CenterStage Dance Troupe and Adirondack Liturgical Dance Troupe.

This all preps her for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

“The week before the auditions and over the summer, I really work hard in class,” Cleveland said. “I concentrate on any of my weaknesses, and I concentrate on technique and facial expression. I go to the audition, I relax and do my best.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal's "The Nutcracker." WHEN: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (times vary). Dec. 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28 and 29. ADMISSION: $57 to $112 general admission (Canadian) and $41 to $71 children under 12. For matinee, $41 to $112 general admission and $28 to $71 children under 12. CONTACT: Call (514) 842-2112 or (866) 842-2112. Visit or