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Dance instructor's vision becomes a sugar plum

Eleven years ago, a ballet troupe based in Pasco County was just a gleam in the eye of longtime professional dancer and dance instructor Gillian Davis.

Ten years ago, it became a reality, thanks to Davis' tireless efforts and the enthusiastic response from area dancers and dance lovers alike.

On Dec. 15 and 16, the troupe, called Expressions, the Dance Company, will present its 10th edition of the ballet favorite, The Nutcracker, at the Center for the Arts at River Ridge. It has a cast of more than 100 singers, actors and dancers from throughout the community and from several different dance studios, twirling around the stage in hundreds of lavish, colorful costumes.

"I started (the company) because I felt that many children in this area had never seen a live ballet and it would pique their interest and show them how excellent it could be," Davis said. "I thought the Christmas classic would be the best way to bring that across."

Davis, who danced with the Royal Ballet of London for 10 years in the late 1950s and later with the Rhodesian National Ballet, has taught ballet for 40 years around the world. She established the Center for Dance, Drama and Music, now on Ridge Road, in 1995, but she still travels internationally as a major examiner (an examiner grades ballet performances) for the Royal Academy of Dancing, one of only five in the United States.

It's this position that has enabled Davis to obtain many of the very special costumes that the dancers in The Nutcracker wear. For example, she purchased the Chinese Tea outfits while she was on duty as an examiner in China. She found the colorful costumes of the Polichinelles while judging in Mexico and the elaborate Arabian attire while in Turkey.

"Whenever I see it, I purchase something for the dance academy," she said.

The cast members are of all ages and abilities.

"I prefer them to have a dance base, but we have acting parts that don't require it," she said.

The major dance role of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are always recruited from professional ranks. This year, they are Staisha Grosch, who has danced with Cincinnati Ballet and is dancing with Expressions for the first time, and Eriberto Jimenez, principal dancer with the Miami Hispanic Ballet, who has appeared with the local company in previous productions.

Dancers Madison McClure and Andriana Kopolian have been with the troupe from the first day and are doing their 10th shows. Bella Calafiura has been in the show for nine years, while Tiffany Pleickhardt and Samantha Stevens have performed in the show eight times.

The lead role of Clara will be danced by three different girls: Jennifer Levy on Dec. 15, Taylor Russ on Dec. 16 and Thaddea Morris at special school performances.


'The Nutcracker'

Where: Center for the Arts at River Ridge, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 15; 2 p.m. Dec. 16

Tickets: $15, reserved seating. Call (727) 842-8175.