UNCSA's "The Nutcracker" to feature dancers from the New York City Ballet

UNCSA's beloved holiday production of “The Nutcracker” will showcase acclaimed dancers from the New York City Ballet – Sara Mearns and Peter Walker – as guest dancers this year.

Mearns will become the Sugar Plum Fairy and Walker the Cavalier Prince for two performances only: 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 18 and Thursday, Dec. 19. Tickets are available at the Stevens Center box office, by phone at 336-721-1945, or online.

Sara Mearns will be guest dancer for "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 18 and 19.

Sara Mearns will dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy on Dec. 18 and 19. / Photo: Paul Kolnik

Hailed as “one of the most celebrated ballerinas in the world” by The New York Times, Mearns has danced with the New York City Ballet her entire professional career. Following her training at the School of American Ballet – the official school of the City Ballet – she became an apprentice in 2003, joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet in 2004, was promoted to soloist in 2006 and became a principal dancer in 2008.

Walker also trained at the School of American Ballet. He joined NYCB as a member of the corps de ballet in 2012 and was promoted to soloist in 2018. Shortly after his promotion, Dance Magazine noted, “Peter Walker has been showing his abilities as a leading man in ballets like Jerome Robbins' ‘West Side Story Suite.’ ” He has danced a variety of featured roles for NYCB, including  Balanchine's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and “Agon” and Mauro Bigonzetti's “Oltremare.” Also an accomplished choreographer, he has created two works for NYCB.

Peter Walker will be guest dancer for "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 18 and 19

Peter Walker will dance the role of Cavalier Prince in "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 18 and 19. / Photo: Paul Kolnik

With their appearances at the Stevens Center, Mearns and Walker join a long list of prominent School of Dance guest artists, including alumna Megan LeCrone, a soloist with NYCB; American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Gillian Murphy (an alumna), Misty Copeland, Stella Abrera, Isabella Boyslton and James Whiteside; dance historians Elizabeth Kendall and Elizabeth Kaye; and Dane Shitagi, photographer and creator of the Ballerina Project.

“Welcoming two of the nation’s most accomplished ballet dancers to perform alongside our immeasurably talented students embodies how UNCSA is powering creativity in our community and on our campus,” said Dean of Dance Susan Jaffe. “I have admired the artistry and power of Sara Mearns throughout her distinguished career, and I’ve seen Peter Walker perform with astounding athleticism and grace. I can assure our audiences that their highly anticipated performances in ‘The Nutcracker’ will be captivating and memorable.”

“The Nutcracker” will be performed at the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem for 10 performances. Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, presented by the UNCSA schools of Dance, Design and Production, and Music. This year’s calendar includes new options for family scheduling on Saturday, Dec. 14, with performances at noon and 5:30 p.m. Additional performances are at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, and on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21 and 22; and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 18-21.

UNCSA’s heralded ballet has received rave reviews from critics and enthusiastic audiences alike since the reimagined production debuted in 2009 under the direction of Ethan Stiefel, former Dean of the UNCSA School of Dance and former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.

Assistant Dean of Ballet Jared Redick will direct “The Nutcracker” with original staging and direction by Stiefel. Celebrated guest conductor Karin Hendrickson will lead the UNCSA Nutcracker Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s music.

About Sara Mearns

Sara Mearns will be guest dancer for "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 18 and 19

Sara Mearns has been hailed as "one of the most celebrated ballerinas in the world." / Photo: Erin Baiano

Sara Mearns, originally from Columbia, S.C., has been dancing since the age of three. She entered the School of American Ballet in the fall of 2001 and became an apprentice with New York City Ballet in the fall of 2003. She joined the corps de ballet in 2004, was promoted to soloist in 2006, and to principal dancer in 2008. Mearns is known for her roles as the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake” and for Balanchine ballets including “Jewels” (Diamonds) and “Symphony in C,” among countless others. She has originated roles in ballets by choreographers including Justin Peck, Kyle Abraham, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, to name a few, and has appeared as a guest artist with the Paul Taylor Dance Company with Dances of Isadora (Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation), the Martha Graham Company (2019 Gala in Etkasis), The Ashley Bouder Project (“Duet” by Liz Gerring) and Company Wang Ramirez (“No. 1”). Mearns appeared in “New Bodies,” a collaboration with Jodi Melnick performed at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. At New York City Center, she has appeared in the Fall for Dance Festival (2013, 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019), where she most recently performed a new duet choregraphed by Kim Brandstrup.  She was a guest artist alternating the role of Victoria Page in the U.S. premiere of Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes.” She recently collaborated with Pam Tanowitz Dance in “Time forever dividing itself towards innumerable futures,” a world premiere performed outside at the 2019 River to River Festival in New York.

Mearns is a Benois de la Danse and Princess Grace Award nominee and winner of the 2018 Bessie Award for Outstanding Performer. She made her musical theatre debut as the Angel in New York City Center Encores! “I Married an Angel” in March 2019, directed and choreographed by Josh Bergasse.  In April, she performed in the Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event in New York City, celebrating what would have been Merce Cunningham’s 100th birthday. This summer she danced at Jacob’s Pillow in a week-long tribute to her called Beyond Ballet.  This past spring, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of South Carolina.

About Peter Walker

Peter Walker will be a guest dancer for "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 18 and 19

Russell Janzen was named one of the New York Times best make dance performers in 2014. / Photo: Paul Kolnik

Peter Walker is from Fort Myers, Fla., where he began his early dance training at age eight with teacher Judy Murray in tap dance and the next year at the Gulfshore Ballet with Melinda Roy. Walker began studying at the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet (NYCB), during the 2006 and 2007 summer courses and enrolled as a full-time student in the winter of 2007. In the spring of 2011, Walker became an apprentice with NYCB and he joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet in fall 2012. He was promoted to soloist in October 2018.

Walker’s first choreographic work for the Company, “ten in seven,” premiered at NYCB’s Fall 2016 Gala. His second work, “dance odyssey,” premiered in Winter 2018. He has participated in the NYCB-affiliated New York Choreographic Institute and the Bayerische Staatsoper Young Choreographers Program in Munich, Germany.

Walker was the recipient of the Mae L. Wien Award for Outstanding Promise in 2011.

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Published October 22, 2019
Updated November 19, 2019

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