On ‘pointe’ with Butler Ballet: Seniors share lead role in ‘Nutcracker’ performance

With the holiday season approaching, Butler  Ballet is preparing an annual tradition for the spotlight once again.

“The Nutcracker,” a ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one, if not the biggest, production the Butler Ballet puts on each year.

With many students in the department this year, due to the size of the freshman class, some of the major roles of the ballet have been double-cast, including the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The two seniors sharing the role are seniors Kate Austin and Aggie Schmank, who have each had a passion for dancing since an early age.

Austin and Schmank began dancing at about four years old, but both said those programs were anything but serious.

“I did ‘creative movement,’ which is basically running around to music at age four,” Austin said. “But I started dancing seriously at about age eight.”

Schmank shared a similar experience.

“I started dancing at about age three or four,” Schmank said. “My mom put me in because I couldn’t sit still.”

When deciding which dance school to go to, Austin knew Butler would be an excellent choice because it has one of the top five dance schools in the nation.

For Schmank though, the choice was easy for another reason.

“I have known professor [Marek] Cholewa and his wife, [Rosanna Cholewa], since I was eight because they put on a few ballets at my home studio,” Schmank said. “A few girls from my home studio came to Butler too, so that helped my decision.”

Austin and Schmank have refined their talents with the help of the dance faculty at Butler.

“The professors get involved in your training and really want you to succeed,” Austin said. “They care about you, not only you as a dancer, but you as a person as well.”

Schmank added that the department is extremely close, like “one big family.”

She said, “There is healthy competition, but we’re still a very close knit community.”

The hard work each puts into their dancing has materialized into both landing a share of a major role.

“I became interested in ballet because of the hard work and the strive for perfection [one needs],” Austin said. “Going into the studio everyday and tweaking little things has always been interesting to me.”

For Schmank, training and rehearsing has become a daily activity, as well.

She said that rehearsals get to be very time consuming, especially during “theater week”—the week before a show.

“You’re there late everyday and get real tired but it’s all worth it,” Schmank said. “[When you] finally perform though it’s so exciting.”

Austin shares the same sentiment in regards to performing.

“By far the performance is my favorite,” Austin said. “It’s hard to describe, but getting up on stage, you get a weird feeling but the body just does what it needs to do.”

Though they have known each other since their freshman year, Austin and Schmank maintain healthy competition that only helps them grow as dancers.

“Over the past couple of years we have shared the same parts and it’s interesting because we are such different dancers,” Austin said. “We do things differently but it only helps us grow.”

After graduation, both Austin and Schmank want to take the next step and dance for a professional ballet company.

Austin says she would love to work for a company that tours Europe, but Schmank wants to stay in the country, with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago being her ultimate goal.

As for “The Nutcracker,” Austin and Schmank suggest everyone should see it.

“People always say that ballets are boring and that  you’ll fall asleep,” Schmank said, “But everyone should broaden their horizons a little more because [“The Nutcracker”] is really beautiful.”

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held from Dec. 2-5 at various times at Clowes Memorial Hall.