See Studio K’s The Nutcracker at ASU on Saturday, Local High Schoolers Take the Lead

Published Friday, December 11, 2015 at 10:19 am

See additional photos below the story.

By Jessica Isaacs


Studio K’s The Nutcracker 2014. Photo by Shannon Blevins/Dreamcatcher Photography.

Dive into the whimsical, wonderful world of a classic Christmas tradition at one of two performances this Saturday of The Nutcracker performed by Studio K at Appalachian State’s Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts. This year’s show will be a fantastic addition to the perfect December weekend and will star Avery High School seniors Tess Snider and Dale Russ in the lead roles.

Perhaps the most popular ballet in the world, The Nutcracker is also a timeless and cherished part of Christmastime across the country for folks of all ages. Studio K has been bringing it to the High Country for nearly two decades, and this year’s shows will feature more than 300 performers.

The Nutcracker was first performed in the 1890s in St. Petersburg, Russia, featuring an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and an original score by renowned composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was later performed around the globe and made its way by the mid-1900s to the United States, where it grew in popularity and remains a timeless holiday favorite.

The story follows the enchanting Christmas experience of a girl named Clara and her favorite toy, a nutcracker, which comes to life to defeat an enemy, turns into a handsome prince and introduces her to a magical new world.

Studio K has been training dancers of various disciplines in Boone for 35 years and its professional-quality ballet company has been performing for 20 years as a branch of the studio.

Studio K and The Nutcracker

The Schaefer Center on the campus of Appalachian State University has played host to the company’s adaptation of The Nutcracker for 17 years now, and showcases dancers of all ages.

Studio K’s The Nutcracker 2014. Photo by Shannon Blevins/Dreamcatcher Photography.

“Ours is a youth ballet company, which lets people know that we do have children involved on stage,” said Cay Harkins, studio director. “Our youngest dancers are 3 and our oldest are over 60.”

Studio K’s annual adaptation tells the classic story and features the Tchaikovsky score, but adds something new and interesting to the performance each year.

“Every year, we create something different with the show. Naturally, it’s still going to be Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker music, but this year we’ve redone the Chinese dance, the finale, the fight scenes and more,” Harkins said. “You won’t come in and see the same thing we did last year. We spice it up a little bit every year.

“We change the backdrops to make sure you’re seeing a high quality show. We’re also able to develop each year because our dancers get better, the show gets better, the studio gets better and the company gets better. We make sure we are always progressing on a professional level and enhancing the experience.”

Young Leaders

For the second year in a row, 17-year-old high school senior Tess Snider will take the stage in the lead role as Clara.

“The female role of Clara portrays a 13-year-old girl, which Tess does beautifully. She’s an excellent actress and an unbelievable dancer,” Harkins said. “She’s wonderful and very charming. The audience believes 100 percent that she is a 13-year-old.”

Snider, a native of Beaufort, South Carolina, boasts 13 years of experience, has been with Studio K for the past five years and has played a role in the Nutcracker performance every year that she’s been here.

Tess Snider (left) and Cay Harkins are pictured during a rehearsal for The Nutcracker at Studio K on Dec. 7. Photo by Jessica Isaacs.

Tess Snider (left) and Cay Harkins are pictured during a rehearsal for The Nutcracker at Studio K on Dec. 7. Photo by Jessica Isaacs.

The dancer who has played the male lead for more than a decade was not available to continue the show this year, so the team called on 17-year-old Dale Russ — a friend of Snider’s who is also a senior at Avery High.

“Last year, Dale came in to help me work on how to partner and turn. Cay met him and just really liked him, so we’re using him as the lead this year,” Snider said.

Although the two have been friends for several years and have each completed extensive training in ballet, Snider and Russ will share the stage for the very first time at the Dec. 12 performance of The Nutcracker.

“Dancing with Dale is amazing. We get along really well,” Snider said. “We had all day rehearsal on Saturday and I was getting really tired, but he came and really built my energy up, so it’s nice just having someone that you’re really comfortable with. The chemistry is really great with him.”

The two dancers have a lot in common as friends, live in the same area and go to the same school, which gives them a unique opportunity to make the show even more special this year.

“Because I’m dancing with Dale, I’m able to work with him more and we’re able to do a lot more partnering. Because we go to school together, we can rehearse at school in our free time because we’re seniors and we don’t have that many classes,” Snider said. “Miss Cay will give us something on one night and we can go back during the week and work on it together. It’s an opportunity for us to advance the dancing and make it a better show.”


Studio K’s The Nutcracker 2014. Photo by Shannon Blevins/Dreamcatcher Photography.

Although the studio has always featured the same actor in the nutcracker’s role, Harkins said the addition of Russ to the company is a welcome change.

“We have always had another gentleman play the role of the nutcracker for us, but he is no longer available to perform with us,” Harkins said. “We are very blessed that Dale has stepped into that role. He is amazing — a very good dancer with excellent training. We’re thrilled he’s here and he does a fabulous job.”

Enjoy the Show

The Studio K ballet company will perform The Nutcracker at 3 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. on Saturday, both at the Schaefer Center.

Guests in the audience will enjoy a magical experience and the quality of a professional ballet at a very affordable price, as tickets cost just $14 for adults and $8 for children.

“It truly brings in your Christmas tradition. A lot of people will come with their whole families,” Harkins said. “A lot of people invite their friends or their teachers to go with them for gifts. Many people come up here to get their Christmas tree that day and will go out to dinner and then finish off with The Nutcracker.

“It snows on stage. The costumes, the sets, backdrops are magnificent — we get the backdrops from an unbelievable artist in California. More than 300 people will cross that stage between the two shows.”

On and off stage, the studio is a family in its own right, featuring a large number of dancers who have been in every performance of The Nutcracker since the beginning.the-nutcracker-2015-600_2

“It is not just bringing people together in the audience, but everybody up on the stage has been brought together like a family, too. It’s almost a spiritual thing when you’re with everybody,” Harkins said. “We have some people who have been in it every year since we started. My own children don’t remember what Christmas is like without this show, so it’s a tradition for those on stage and in the audience. It’s truly mesmerizing, and I’m pretty proud of it.”

This High Country tradition is undoubtedly one of the most popular ways to celebrate Christmas and get into the holiday spirit.

“It just gets people in the Christmas spirit. It’s something all ages can enjoy — little kids, adults, grandparents.” Snider said. “Everyone understands it, it’s fun and it’s exciting, and that’s why I like to do it, as well. I love to dance.”

If you’re sold on the show and can’t wait to see it, call 828-262-4046 or go online to get your tickets today.

For more information about Studio K, check out


Studio K rehearsal photos by Jessica Isaacs:




















Photos from last year’s performance of The Nutcracker by Shannon Blevins/Dreamcatcher Photography:











Privacy Policy | Rights & Permissions | Discussion Guidelines

Website Management by Outer Banks Media