Schoenfeld says farewell to Western Arkansas Ballet with final ‘Nutcracker’

Schoenfeld says farewell to Western Arkansas Ballet with final ‘Nutcracker’

As Western Arkansas Ballet opens the curtain for the 38th annual production of “The Nutcracker,” the moment will be both exciting and maybe a little tearful for artistic director Melissa Schoenfeld.

“It’ll be my last ‘Nutcracker,’ and I think it’s a very special one for me,” Schoenfeld says. “It is kind of bittersweet, but I am happy for what’s coming.”

Since October, Schoenfeld has been working to become certified to lead Moving with Parkinson’s classes. In September, she began teaching dance to children with developmental disabilities through Community Connections in Fort Smith. For the last three years she’s taught dance classes to 4- and 5-year-olds through ArTs at Bost, another outreach program for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

But this year, just as she has for the last 36 years, she began planning for the beloved Christmas production in the early fall before there was even the slightest winter chill in the air. She took her role as artistic director shortly after graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ballet pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma in Norman in 1988, studying under Yvonne Chouteau, one of the “Five Moons” or Native prima ballerinas of Oklahoma. She also studied ballet with Clara Nicolayevna, an instructor with the Byelorussian State Academy in the former USSR in 1985.

“When I first moved here, we didn’t have enough dancers in our company to dance the sections of ‘Nutcracker’ [such as] ‘The Waltz of the Flowers’ and ‘The Waltz of the Snowflakes,’ and so we hired dancers from the University of Oklahoma to come over,” Schoenfeld remembers. In fact, she was one of the dancers in those scenes before joining Western Arkansas Ballet.

Under Schoenfeld’s watch, in just a few years, the company was plenty big enough to stage “The Nutcracker.”

“We [still] bring in guest artists every year. It’s so nice to have people coming from the outside into Fort Smith, so Fort Smith can see dance beyond our borders,” she says. This year they are bringing back husband-and-wife Arcadian Broad and Taylor Sambola-Broad as the Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Joining this year as the Nutcracker Prince is Seth Walley from Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre, alongside a cast of more than 125 local children and adults.

Schoenfeld says that Fort Smith attorney Stephen Smith returns as Herr Drosselmeyer, who gifts Clara her beloved nutcracker.

“He does such a great job, and he’s added his own special touches over the years,” she adds.

Smith says that his mother served on the WAB board while he was growing up, a position that he took up after law school.

“Our attendance at ‘The Nutcracker’ was just part of the Christmas holiday,” he remembers.

“I don’t know that I would say starstruck, you know, but I know that there were moments where I’d say, ‘Gosh, I’d love to be one of those little boys that gets to perform in the party scene or play the role of the hero or whatever,’” he says. While he says he might have taken a dance class or two as a child, in high school he focused on tennis and even played in college.

However, it was during high school when he first got on stage for “The Nutcracker.” He was recruited for the Christmas Eve party in the opening scene by a former girlfriend. He says she was a dancer with the ballet and when she found out that he could waltz, she talked him into joining the cast.

At the time, the role of Drosselmeyer was regularly played by the late attorney and friend to the ballet, Ray Moore, who passed away in 2005. Smith has held the role ever since.

Now Smith continues the tradition of bringing his family to the ballet each year for the Christmas show, and this year his daughter will be on stage too as a mouse and later a jester.

“It’s a function of tradition,” Smith says of “The Nutcracker.” “It’s synonymous with Christmas to me.”

This year Schoenfeld will also be part of the opening party scene, and she’ll be joined by her son.

“Since this is my last year, we are being party adults together” in the opening scene she says. In the past, her daughter has also been involved with WAB for many years.

As she gets ready for her last “Nutcracker,” she’s trying to take it all in.

“I guess I’ve just been really sentimental this year, I think, in watching it and taking the time to really watch the kids performing and making sure that it’s the Christmas that Fort Smith deserves.”



Western Arkansas Ballet:

‘The Nutcracker’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Dec. 16 & 2 p.m. Dec. 17

WHERE — ArcBest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith

COST — $30 adults; $20 students

INFO — or 785-0152

Categories: Family Friendly