Entertainment

Powerful Prodigies: Nashville's Artistic Youth Master the Classics, Part 1

Thailiyah and fellow young dancers pantomime the roles of the mice in Nashville’s Nutcracker. / Photo Courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

This iconic scene of young Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in a recent performance is a treasured holiday memory for many generations of Nashvillians. / Photo courtesy of Nashville Ballet

This iconic scene of young Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in a recent performance is a treasured holiday memory for many generations of Nashvillians. / Photo courtesy of Nashville Ballet

It is said that the famed Russian composer Tchaikovsky had mastered the piano by the age of 8, after first experimenting with the instrument beginning at the age of 5. The renowned 20th century artist Pablo Picasso had painted his first great masterpieces by the age of 14. Consider all the great craftsmen of our age and those who came before us. Essentially every single master – from Einstein to Hemingway and all greats in between – showed glimpses of their genius at a young age. That same glimmer of genius – and its accompanying effort and determination – can be seen in each of these young artists.

Local young dancers Melanie Eilenstine and Thailiyah Williams have both been tiny dancers since just after they could walk. Enrolled as students in the School of Nashville Ballet, they are the two young ladies selected to play the role of Clara in the Nashville Ballet’s 2013 production of Nashville’s Nutcracker.

Melanie and fellow young dancers exhibit excitement and curiosity backstage at the 2012 Nashville’s Nutcracker. / Photo Courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

Melanie and fellow young dancers exhibit excitement and curiosity backstage at the 2012 Nashville’s Nutcracker. / Photo Courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

Long a Nashville holiday tradition, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet is one that many of us recall fondly as part of our annual activities during the holiday season. Many families make a point to include the Nutcracker in their holiday festivities, and it is frequently the first ballet many people ever see performed. The Nutcracker has been part of Nashville’s holiday traditions for many decades, yet the newest variation on the classic Nutcracker ballet was created by Nashville Ballet Artistic Director & CEO Paul Vasterling and first performed in 2008. “Now that we’re in our sixth season of presenting this story, and with production values that rival Broadway, there are families and children that have grown up with this unique version of Nutcracker,” stated Vasterling.

Thailiyah and fellow young dancers pantomime the roles of the mice in Nashville’s Nutcracker. / Photo Courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

Thailiyah and fellow young dancers pantomime the roles of the mice in Nashville’s Nutcracker. / Photo Courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

The process of becoming Clara is a classic tale of hard work, hope and heroism. Both of these girls have been dancing since they were quite young. “I started dancing when I was 3 years old. I just pointed my toes and sucked in my stomach when I was told. But as I got older, I fell in love with all things ballet,” related 12-year-old Melanie. As students of the School of the Nashville Ballet, they practice daily for hours. “I usually practice around two to three hours, at least, each day,” stated 11-year-old Thailiyah. Melanie agreed. “I go to ballet six days a week for two to four hours.” As they auditioned for the Nutcracker, it was no guarantee that either girl would be awarded the role. After the large audition, it takes up to two weeks for each young dancer to receive a letter in the mail, informing them of which role he or she received. “It was exciting! I didn’t think I was going to get Clara this year,” Thailiyah informed us. “Those two weeks were really hard,” Melanie concurred. “I think like most of the girls, I was really hoping to get Clara. I would have been okay with any of the roles, though, to be a part of the Nutcracker.”

Thailiyah Williams in class at School of Nashville Ballet / Photo courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

Thailiyah Williams in class at School of Nashville Ballet / Photo courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Photo by Tim Broekema

As they each dance the role of Clara on opposite nights, Melanie and Thailiyah are part of a larger cast that succeeds in enchanting all of Nashville with their lyrical interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet, first performed in 1892. “Nashville’s Nutcracker brings so much of the community together, from the professional artists of Nashville Ballet and The Nashville Symphony to the aspiring young dancers in the youth cast and the audience members who have decided to make us a part of their holiday tradition,” said Sharon Mahoney, Director of Artistic Operations for Nashville Ballet. Melanie and Thailiyah have been inspired by the professional dancers of the Nashville Ballet to such an extent that they both want to continue with ballet as their professions one day. “When I get older, I want to be in a training division or get into a second company and then eventually work my way up into a big company,” said Melanie. Thailiyah agreed. “Kayla Rowser from the Nashville Ballet company is my favorite dancer. She’s one of my biggest inspirations. She’s usually the Sugar Plum Fairy or the Dew Drop Fairy.”

Such an amount of passion and determination would be admirable in an adult who was so dedicated to his or her craft, but it is simply astounding to see it in two young girls who have barely risen above elementary school. Not only are they remarkable young ballet students, their interests reach even further. “I have some acting experience – I’ve done two commercials and a TV movie,” related Thailiyah, who also reported that she studies contemporary dance and yoga. A triple threat, Thailiyah also works on her vocal skills while acting and dancing. “I like to sing pop songs and R&B,” she related. Melanie informed us that she is also training in classical music. She “every once in a while takes a voice lesson” for her classically-trained soprano voice during her remarkably busy schedule, and she is also busy with other physical activities. “I like rock climbing. Right next door to the Nashville Ballet is Climb Nashville. Quite a few dancers go there to have fun,” informed Melanie. Never one for missing out on an opportunity to improve her craft, Melanie also said matter-of-factly, “It also really exercises your arms and legs.”

These tiny, power-packed prodigies are something to behold. We encourage you to witness it in person. If you haven’t done so already, make the Nutcracker part of your holiday traditions this year. “It was our hope that Nashville’s Nutcracker would become a lasting family tradition, and we believe we’ve accomplished just that,” stated Vasterling. It will be a claim to fame if you are able to say that you saw these young ladies dance when they were Clara in the Nutcracker. It is our humble opinion here at Sports & Entertainment Nashville, but we think that you will be able to say “I saw them when!” one day soon!

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