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Getting to the pointe – Mira Nastassja accepts the lead character’s crown for Media City Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker.’

By Joyce Rudolph
Published: Last Updated Friday, November 28, 2008 10:22 PM PST

There will be a new ballerina wearing Clara’s crown in Media City Ballet’s production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

After three years, Amara Baptist has passed the crown of the ballet’s lead role to Mira Nastassja for this year’s performances Dec. 6 and 7 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

Baptist moves into three new roles this year, Chinese dancer, Columbina and Icicle, said Natasha Middleton, company artistic director and choreographer.

“[Baptist is] 18 and grown up,” Middleton said.

A former apprentice with the company, Baptist is a full member now, Middleton said. Baptist performed the lead in the piece Gayane in August when the company presented its Aram Khachaturian Ballet.

Middleton spent six weeks searching for her replacement, placing advertisements in dance and acting magazines and online, in dance centers and dance stores.

She saw 49 people during the search, Middleton said. Most came from Northern and Southern California, with one from New York and another from Milwaukee.

Middleton had all but given up at the last scheduled audition in October. Then Nastassja showed up.

“And there she was. That was it,” Middleton said. “Amara had said she would do it again, but with a sigh. It was time for her to take on a new challenge.”

Nastassja has the perfect look for the role, Middleton said — she is 22 years old but can pass for 12, which is Clara’s age.

“I liked her whole look, her dancing body type and the way she danced,” Middleton said. “She had all the qualities of Clara that I was looking for.”

Playing a 12-year-old has been fun, Nastassja said.

“You get to let go of everything and act like a child again,” she said. “You can’t do that on a daily basis. It’s fun to work with the kids, too, and I try to interact with them and get a feel of how a 12-year-old would act or react to things.”

The Denver native has been dancing since she was 7. She received her training at the Academy of Colorado Ballet and did her apprenticeship with the academy during her senior year of high school.

She took a couple of years off from ballet, and last year she joined the David Taylor Dance Theatre in Denver, dancing the role of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“I was excited to get it,” she said of her upcoming role with the Burbank company. “I wasn’t expecting I would, but hoping at least to get into this performance.”

Nastassja enjoys dancing both roles because each offers its own unique attributes, she said.

“The Sugar Plum Fairy is more technique and principal ability, but with Clara, there’s acting involved,” she said. “It’s a thrill and a joy to perform as the character and have the interaction with the other characters.”.

Middleton cast Aubrey Morgan, of Hollywood, as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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