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Artistic director adds illusion to Media City's 'Nutcracker'

December 11, 2004

JOYCE RUDOLPH

For this year's "The Nutcracker," Artistic Director Natasha Middleton

has added magic to Tchaikovsky's holiday ballet, in two shows on

Sunday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

Two illusions from the repertoire of the late Harry Blackstone Jr.

have been loaned to Middleton for this weekend's performances.

A second-generation magician, Blackstone Jr. traveled around the

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world performing his 2 1/2 -hour show of illusions during the 1970s

and '80s, said Dale Hindman, president of the board of the directors

of the Academy of Magical Arts, which makes its headquarters at The

Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Blackstone Jr. was vice president of the board of directors for

the academy from 1994 to '97. He died in 1997.

The magician's widow, Gay Blackstone, has allowed the

Burbank-based ballet company to use the illusions in this production,

Hindman said.

"I always love to see magic incorporated with theater, and in this

case, it's combining elements of theater and dance with the art of

magic," he said. "We have some things we worked out to bring together

the magical moments of the ballet with some traditional magic

effects."

The illusions will be implemented in the party scene, in which

Herr Drosselmeyer introduces the life-size dolls to Clara and the

family's guests, said Middleton, who was trained by the magician's

widow.

"I am very honored to use this equipment. Gay has a heart of gold.

She is so professional and well trained in the magic business. And

she's excited about this too, because she is a former ballet dancer,"

Middleton said.

Middleton had to take an oath not to reveal the secret.

"Even though I know how it works, I'm still amazed at how it

actually is done," she said.

Adding to the fun, this year's Drosselmeyer is being played by

Sterlyn Steele, a magician member of The Magic Castle. He teaches

English and drama at North Hollywood High School and is also a

playwright, theater producer and director. His daughter, Echo, is

portraying an angel in the ballet.

Dancing the role of Clara is Jacqueline Pagone. She comes to the

Media City Ballet from the Chicago City Ballet.

"She has good technique, is a strong dancer and she loves playing

this role," Middleton said.

Performing as the Nutcracker Prince is Arsen Serobian, who has

danced with the Moscow Ballet Theater.

The choreography has been a collaboration between Middleton and

her husband, Askar Kettebekov, assistant choreographer.

It's been a blending of the traditional with the modern Russian

school of ballet, she said.

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