Greenville academy prepares for annual Christmas ballet

Zoe Moore, practicing her lead role of “Mirliton Pas,” with rehearsal partner, Colby Jackson. Jackson will be performing in The Nutcracker as the “Harlequin Variation,” and in the “Chinese Pas.”

GREENVILLE — Christmas comes early to a small corner of eastern North Carolina. Each October, the dedicated performers, instructors and production designers at the North Carolina Academy of Dance Arts (NCADA) embark on their annual two-month commitment of rehearsals and performances to bring to life perennial holiday favorite The Nutcracker. 

NCADA, a pre-professional dance studio located in Greenville, offers many different styles of dance to individuals of all ages, including ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, contemporary, musical theatre, and more. Artistic Director, Sherryl Tipton, has been training and producing talented dancers for 44 years and counting.  

“My goal had always been to try to begin to offer a dance program that would allow students to enjoy dance,” Tipton said. “But also for the few that were serious about following a career, to make sure that they were given the same type of background and training that it would take.”  

The Nutcracker is a two-act, classical ballet known and adored by individuals across the globe. The ballet tells the story of young Clara and the evening of her family’s Christmas party. During the party, Clara is given an enchanted nutcracker from her godfather. Once Clara falls asleep, she dreams of facing mice in battle, adventures through a snowy forest, and arrives at The Land of the Sweets with what has now become her Nutcracker Prince. 

“It’s one of the few times, especially across eastern North Carolina that individuals can have live accompaniment and dance on stage at the same time,” Tipton said. “I have always felt that The Nutcracker ballet is universal in its appeal…it is also something that even dads and brothers can associate with because even if they’re out Christmas shopping, you can almost always hear some of the music from The Nutcracker being played.” 

NCADA has been showcasing The Nutcracker ballet for 29 years. This year’s 30th annual production takes place at Wright Auditorium, located on East Carolina University’s campus, although the company has performed The Nutcracker all around eastern North Carolina. Preparation for the show requires months of hard work from NCADA dancers and faculty.  

“We have been rehearsing since October, so for about two months now,” said Brielle Mcguillicuddy, who will be performing the lead role in as Clara.

Lisa Kannen and helpers sewing costumes in “Lisa’s Workshop” to fit dancers for the upcoming performance of The Nutcracker. Emmie Brooks/North State Journal

Along with rehearsals, the show would not be as extravagant without Lisa Kannen, NCADA’s costume designer. With help of family and friends of dancers, Kannen creates, fits, and styles over 100 costumes for performers each year.

“I personally don’t understand how she (Kannen) does it,” Mcgillicuddy said. “She makes sure they are fitted to everyone perfectly, she puts in so much time and effort just so we feel pretty in our costumes on stage dancing.”

Not only does Kannen create pieces for the show that look elegant on stage, she is forced to get creative when it comes to certain character’s attire. Dancers have worn hula-hoops folded into skirts, stuffed “mice” costumes, and one special character known as “Mother Ginger”, wears a skirt large enough to fit 12 young dancers under it.

In addition to the ballet itself, it is made complete with a live orchestra performing the classical music written by Pytor Tchaicovsky, performed by the North Carolina Symphony and Eastern Symphony Orchestra.

The amount of technical training and sweat put into the production becomes beyond worth it to these dancers. Every performer raises money before the show to donate to Children’s Miracle Network, along with donations and contributions, all ticket proceeds also go to this cause. NCADA stands by their motto, “Kids Helping Kids.”

Children’s Miracle Network hospitals provide the support and care for children who are fighting cancer, trauma, surgery needs, diabetes, and more. Over the past 29 years, NCADA’s production of The Nutcracker has raised $275,000 for Children’s Miracle Network. This year, the academy’s goal is to extend that close to $300,000.

Each year, Children’s Miracle Network selects one special miracle child to represent them for the year. NCADA provides the opportunity for the miracle child of the year to perform in the production. The child chosen receives the invitation to meet the entire cast, dress in costume, and join in the prologue portion of the show.

“I love that we’re able to participate in something that we love and also give back to our community,” Mcgillicuddy said. “Children’s Miracle Network is really close to me because one of my best friends was the miracle child, not only giving back but being able to see who we’re giving back to is amazing.”

“We have had the same miracle child two years in a row now, and the second he gets backstage, he always has the biggest smile on his face,” Mcgillicuddy said. “Everyone crowds around him to see his smile; his positivity is contagious.”

For 2022 ticket and performance information, visit