For 26 years, Christ Church Nutcracker Ballet has been put on by the dance ministry at Christ’s Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, and during that time it has grown into a tradition cherished by generations.
The 27th version of the play is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. at the University of North Florida’s Lazzara Performance Hall.
The money raised from this year’s showing will go to four charities, with St. Jude Children’s Hospital added as a recipient of this year’s generosity, along with Dreams Come True, pediatric hospice and an orphanage in Bolivia.
“We offer our help by dancing for those who can’t,” said Felicia Rhoden, who began the dance ministry decades ago and continues to have a major role in the production of the play.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, instead of going virtual, the play showed incredible “the show must go on” spirit and pushed back the showcase from December to May just so that it could still be held in front of a crowd, even if it was limited capacity.
“Some in the play have been in it all the way through the years, and they deserved to have the proper sendoff,” Rhoden said. “It just means so much to everyone involved, because they have so much love in their hearts, and we never forget why we’re doing this.”
At the end of the day, it is about raising money, and having fun while putting on an exhilarating show while doing it.
Helping out those in need is at the forefront of every performer’s mind when they are first introduced to the production, and it remains there even after they’ve continued to come back years later.
According to Rhoden, it is something that will never get old. It is what she believes at the end of the day makes the ministry’s version of the Nutcracker so unique from that of other adaptations that take place during the holiday season.
“The performers feel the love and the joy that comes from being on stage,” Rhoden said. “There’s nothing quite like it. I always stand on stage right and when the curtains go up all the colors and everything just comes to life.”
Rhoden has had the continued support of her children and family over the years. Her daughter Claire Duffy runs the show backstage and makes sure everything is in order throughout the entire production.
“It’s a hard job, but she does such an amazing job with juggling it all and making sure all the moving pieces line up perfectly,” Rhoden said.
Seventeen children took part in the play’s first year, which is such a vast difference from the hundreds that will take to the stage this year.
One of the play’s traditions includes Rhoden being a member of the cast as takes part in one scene and is the oldest member at 84 years old. The youngest in this year’s production will be three years old.
Performing has always been a passion of Rhoden’s and she also spent time as a professional ballet dancer, which makes the traditional Nutcracker close to her heart.
However, she has also realized that as the next generations come through the program there are certain modifications that she makes to each year’s production to make it its own, including adding Hip Hop jesters to this year’s play.
“It’s different and exciting, while still sticking to the same storyline,” Rhoden said. “This Nutcracker is for everyone and anyone, and none of it would be possible without the best teachers and volunteers around. I’m so grateful for everything.”
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