Graceful ‘Gift’

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Courtesy photo/Denton City Contemporary Ballet
Dancers imitate seaweed in Denton City Contemporary Ballet’s “A Gift for Emma.”
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Company starts local holiday season with annual ballet, now in 15th year

Lisa Racina admits that Denton City Contemporary Ballet is starting the holidays off a little early.

The company’s annual holiday fantasia in dance, A Gift for Emma, officially kicks off the season this weekend.

“It’s the only time we can get the space,” Racina said.

The space is the performing arts center at Krum High School, an auditorium that’s inspired a growing fondness among Denton performing arts companies.

Even though the company tells its story before Thanksgiving, Racina said her dancers are ready.

With this year being the 15th performance of the annual dance, Racina’s students at Denton Dance Conservatory have grown up with the show.

“This year, all of my soloists knew the choreography,” Racina said. “Every single soloist knew it. First of all, a lot of them have been watching the video since they were little. And the company could finally afford some assistants to teach the choreography to the new dancers.”

Emma is a simple story, really. A young street urchin, Emma, sneaks into a dance studio near Christmastime to get warm. The lessons end, the dance teachers leave and lock up. Emma — like Clara before her in The Nutcracker — curls up under the Christmas tree and falls asleep in the studio. She goes on a journey in her dream and receives a gift. During her dream, she meets “swinging elves,” toys that come to life and Poseidon and the Arctic Wind. She meets creatures on land (dancing flowers and spiders) and under the sea (jellyfish and seahorses).

Racina casts children from her studio and other studios in town, but the principal and solo roles are performed by members of the contemporary ballet and guest artists.

“We’ve added some parts this year, like spiders who do an elaborate dance with a web,” Racina said. “And this year, we also created seaweed for the ocean scenes.”

Emma has long shown Racina’s gift for integrating the things that catch her attention outside of the studio into the dance. Under the sea, scallops zip onto the stage on skateboards, and in a dark corner, dancers sling and shoot on black bands to weave spider webs. Umbrellas festooned with lights and scarf-like tendrils become jellyfish. Emma has also engaged the dancers’ imaginations. With props like these, the dancers have convincingly embodied creatures who float and climb.

After 14 years, the company has had to refresh some of its standards, too. A crafty company board member is building a new Christmas tree that expands to 16 feet tall.

Like most North Texas dance companies, Denton City Contemporary Ballet includes professional guests in the piece.

Hip-hop dancer Chris Koehl returns to dazzle as the robot doll. Koehl is a former faculty member from Denton Dance Conservatory and was a contestant on season eight of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.

“Last year, he got mobbed by all these girls during intermission,” Racina said.

Koehl signed autographs for the audience during intermission and the fans were enthusiastic. Koehl will sign autographs again this year. He’s appeared on the popular television series Glee and also appeared in Jermaine Jackson’s music video for “Blame It on the Boogie.”

It’d be sacrilege to stage a holiday ballet without a pas de deux, and Racina would hardly betray her years of devotion to classical ballet and skip it. Kiev Ballet School alumna Iuliia Ilina dances the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy with her cavalier, a role danced by Dallas Blagg, a member of the Tulsa Ballet. The pair dances the pas de deux in the traditional Russian style.

Brandon McGee returns to the ballet, this year performing the role of Poseidon.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.


What: Denton City Contemporary Ballet presentes its annual holiday fantasia in dance.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Krum High School Performance Center, 811 E. McCart St.

Details: Tickets cost $12 to $18.

On the Web: For tickets and information, visit .

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