Five seniors prep for their last ‘The Nutcracker’

“I’m sure we’re all going to cry,” said Alyssa Ganter, 17, a home-schooled senior. She is one of five dancers with the Columbus Ballet who will be going off to college next fall.

“It’s my last ‘Nutcracker’ as a student,” said Kelsey Hirsch, a 17-year-old senior at Northside High School. “It’s really sad. I’ve grown up with a lot of these girls.”

Taking the final bow with Kelsey and Alyssa Gantner are Kelley Thorne, 17, Columbus High School, Valerie Lake, 17, Smiths Station High School and Tayler Foster, Glenwood School.

Making it especially bittersweet for Kelsey is her mother, Maria, is the interim director of the Columbus Ballet. Hirsch got the Columbus Ballet going again in 1994 after the company’s four-year hiatus. She left her position as artistic director five years ago and returned to teach part-time last year. Hirsch recently became the interim director while a national search is under way for the artistic/executive director position.

The choreography is completely different than it has been in recent years.

“It’s different, but I really like it,” said Alyssa, who is playing the Sugar Plum Fairy. “I think the audience will like to see something different.”

She’s applying to various colleges to study nursing, and hopes to become a nurse who dances in her spare time.

Kelsey’s goal is to become a member of a professional ballet company. She’ll be applying to several companies at the same time she’ll apply for colleges.

“I may go to a school in a city that has a good ballet company,” she said. “That’s an option.”

This year’s she’s dancing the role of the Snow Queen and is in the Arabian sequence.

“I’ve been the Snow Queen before,” Kelsey said. “I’ve done everything else, but I’ve never done Arabian.

Valerie, who was preparing to audition for the dance program at the University of Alabama last Friday, was excited about the opportunity.

Kelly is hoping to go to either the University of Georgia or University of Virginia, and will continue dancing, though she will not major in dance.

She and Kelsey started dancing together at a very young age and are inseparable, Hirsch said.

All five seniors are close and go to movies and go out to eat together.

“They do everything together and have such a wonderful relationship,” Hirsch said. “There is no jealousy ... I see none of that.”

Hirsch, a language arts teacher at Fort Middle School, said the five graduating students are among her strongest dancers. But she’s not worried because there are several younger students who are very good. And that’s the goal, she said, to teach the younger students to take the place of graduating dancers.

Ashley Fortenberry, 16, is a home-schooled junior. Like most of the dancers, she has multiple roles. She’s in the Snow scene and is the lead Marzipan dancer.

“It’s (the choreography) definitely hard, but it’s new so it seems a lot harder,” Ashley said. “And doing something new is fun.”

Rachel Green, 16, is another home-schooled junior, who is having a lot of fun this year. She’s a snow flake and gardener. Her goal is to go to college to major in dance education and choreography.

Two of the younger dancers are Hannah Huling, 9, a home-schooled fourth grader, and Danica Rains, 10, a home-schooled fifth grader.

Both girls are playing soldiers in the battle with the Mouse King.

Danica, who has been dancing since she was 2 years old, is in her first “Nutcracker,” and says she loves it. Hannah played a Gingerbread last year.

Even though she’s just 10, Danica has plans.

“I want to go to the University of Alabama and do dance. And after that, I want to teach,” she said.

Hannah wants to have a career in dance.

David Coleman, an Auburn resident, drives to Columbus every day for rehearsals.

He plays the Red Rose Cavalier, the Mouse King and is a dancer in the Russian sequence.

“It’s certainly worth the drive to experience the caliber of ballet they offer here,” he said.