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Geneva event offers up some holiday dance magic

Lily Karls(left) Grace Ward perform one last dance Saturday their shared role Clar'Nutcracker.' | Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

Lily Karlson (left) and Grace Ward perform one last dance Saturday in their shared role of Clara in the "Nutcracker." | Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 10, 2014 6:23AM

GENEVA — For several dozen little girls in their most sparkly party dresses, the Sugar Plum Fairy Tea hosted Saturday by State Street Dance Studio was the social event of the season.

They sipped hot chocolate, nibbled mini-eclairs, cookies and other fancy party foods, visited Santa Claus, and not only met but danced with ballerinas from the studio’s recent production of the “Nutcracker” ballet.

For the performers who attended, whether in costume or not, the third-annual fundraiser was an occasion to remember.

“I can’t believe this is my last time wearing this,” said 12-year-old Batavian Grace Ward, resplendent in the ruffled pink gown she wore in her starring role as Clara in the “Nutcracker.” “I’m so upset the production is over, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime role, and it was really, really fun.”

Eleven-year-old Lily Karlson of Geneva, who also portrayed Clara in the double-cast show, also said she was saddened that the show and the five months of rehearsals that preceded it were finished. But she brightened at the sight of the young girls swarming around her.

“This party is a lot of fun. I love meeting little kids and making them feel special,” she said.

Dance chorus members Susan D’Onofrio and Alexandra Pasterak left their costumes at home, but they didn’t hesitate to back up the Claras in their duet performance.

“We’re trying to bring some Christmas spirit to these families,” said 14-year-old Pasterak. “I like this event because it’s very family-friendly, and it’s great for kids.”

“I would have loved to come to this when I was little,” added D’Onofrio, also 14. “They’re obviously having so much fun.”

Not all of the performers at the tea were children. Phil Pasterak, Alexandra’s father, played Clara’s father in the ballet’s opening scene, while his wife, Kris, portrayed a party guest.

“The studio is a family-oriented organization,” Phil Pasterak said. “The kids do the dancing, and the parents do a lot of the behind-the-scenes organizing. But the ‘Nutcracker’ is special because they need adults on stage in the party scene, so that gives parents a chance to be on stage with their kids. We loved performing together as a family with our daughter.”

Even families who have only experienced the “Nutcracker” in the audience threw themselves into the party spirit at the tea.

“We’re big ‘Nutcracker’ fans, so we were very excited to hear about this event,” said Geneva resident Katrina Roitburd, who shared an elegantly appointed table with her husband, Jason, her 5-year-old son, Christian, and her 2-year-old daughter, Alina. “We really wanted to meet the characters, like Clara, the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

After receiving a firm handshake and a salute from the Nutcracker, Christian returned to his parents with shining eyes.

“I like him a lot because he’s funny,” Christian said. “But I don’t want to dance like him. I’d rather learn breakdancing.”

Geneva resident Jill Daab watched fondly as her 3-year-old daughter, Bayla, mimicked the Claras’ dance movements with her best friend, 3-year-old Claire Tisdall of Flossmoor.

“Bayla’s in the toddler dance class (at State Street Studio), and she’s loving getting to dance with the big kids here. I think it’s great having this event for the little kids to have fun with dancing,” she said.

Proceeds from a silent auction at the event, which included a cameo appearance in next year’s “Nutcracker” production as an auction item, will fund studio owner Linda Cunningham’s plan to register her production company as a nonprofit group so she can offer more performance opportunities to young dancers. She has scheduled a full-length traditional production of “Sleeping Beauty” and a modern version of “Alice in Wonderland,” both on the weekend of May 31-June 1. Some Geneva residents remember Cunningham as the volunteer who produced School District 304’s annual elementary school musicals for free the year after the district cut the productions from its budget.

“Starving artists need support, and the community needs opportunities to be creative and artistic,” Cunningham said. “But the main purpose of the tea is to get people moving with the joy of dancing and the holidays.”

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