“Dancing is a gift,” believes Jean Cobelli, Director of Dance at Enchanted Garden Studios and creator, director, and choreographer of the “Nuts about the Nutcracker” ballet, which finished its 14th annual performance on December 17th at Ridgefield High School.  For 14 straight years, Cobelli has shared the gift of dance in numerous ways, most notably by donating 100% of the show’s profits to worthy charities.  This year, for the first time, SPHERE was the lucky recipient of the show’s proceeds, receiving a donation of $25,000.

“Nuts about the Nutcracker” was written by Cobelli after years performing and teaching the original “Nutcracker” ballet.  The original is a rendition of the classic story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” written in 1816, by E. T. A. Hoffmann, in which young Marie Stahlbaum's favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, takes her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.  Hoffmann's story was adapted by Vsevolozhsky and Petipa for the ballet and Tchaikovsky wrote the music.  The “Nutcracker” was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 18, 1892.

Cobelli’s “Nuts about the Nutcracker” incorporates much of Ridgefield.  It is based in Ridgefield.  It features local businesses and events in Ridgefield.  And, it is performed mostly by dancers who train with Cobelli, known as Ms. Jean to her students, at the Enchanted Garden in Ridgefield. Cobelli has been teaching dance for over thirty years.  "Dance," she says, "has been a lifelong journey for me, and teaching has been the most magical part of it."  This year, the show featured over 145 dancers, from grades kindergarten through 12th, and received behind-the-scenes help from alumni, who remain loyal to the show.  

The show’s graduating seniors are a big deal.  For the past few years, the show has graduated dancers who have been with the show since kindergarten, or since they started dancing.  This year’s seniors were Cassie Pavain, Erin Desimone, Ruby Verbitsky, Katie Hackett, Hannah Latorre, and Grace Jeffries. Pavain has been dancing with Ms. Jean since she was two years old and has danced in each one of the 14 “Nuts about the Nutcracker” performances.  “I like how every year the show is the same. It means not only me, but all of my friends, get to grow up with all the parts. Since I have been dancing and doing the show for such a long time, this means a lot to me. As a kid, I looked up to all the older girls, admiring their beauty and skill. Growing up I've got to fill these roles, starting with bakers in middle school to a solo as Arabian in my senior year, making it that much more special to me,” said Pavain.  

Cobelli’s “Nuts about the Nutcracker” was adapted for Ridgefield at one of her son’s baseball games while listening to the music of the Nutcracker. Being a native of Ridgefield, and loving dance, it was a way for her to honor two things she holds dear and to create something unique that she could share in many ways. It starts with the performers. Dancers start training for the 20 original dances during the summer and work tirelessly until the show goes on each December. An extensive wardrobe, props and scenery get warehoused and moved to the stage each year, and the families of the dancers and some regulars (including Cobelli’s husband and sons) make sure the dancers have everything they need when the show goes on.  

Pavain said, “There is tons of work and heart that goes into each show. It is not just another Nutcracker, but a Jean Cobelli production! That means it’s full of complex footwork, tons of props, and over a hundred dancers.”

Local sponsors support the production, and one worthy charity gets a boost they so desperately need to keep their organization running throughout the year.  For many years, the Molly Ann Tango Memorial Foundation, a Ridgefield-based non-profit that supports families and children with disabilities, was the recipient.  This year, Cobelli and The Enchanted Garden dance program chose SPHERE - also a Ridgefield-based non-profit - and one that assists adults with disabilities, offering programs and much-needed resources to improve the quality of their lives.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars will go a long way,” says Lori Berisford, President of SPHERE.  “We will be able to afford things that have been on our wish list for a long time.”  For instance, SPHERE will once again be able to host a Valentine’s Day Party for its nearly 60 members and many volunteers.  “When we were a smaller organization, we held this party every year.  But, as we’ve grown, it’s been harder and harder to afford special events like this.  These are meaningful events – they bring us all together and we have fun,” says Berisford.  Programs in art and jewelry making are popular programs at SPHERE and some of the money will be used to buy much-needed storage cabinetry for the art and jewelry supplies. “And, some of the money will help us build a little nest egg for the future,” says Berisford.

Members of SPHERE got involved in the production as well, highlighting the sponsors on stage and manning concessions at the door. This meant a lot to the performers.

Said Pavain: “I have worked with SPHERE before and I love that we [got] to support the organization. I think having them in the show [was] more impactful to not only the audience, but to the dancers in the show as well.”

Cobelli has no plans to slow down.  “It’s a good thing for our town, and for everyone who participates in and benefits from the performance.  And, it’s a good thing for me, too!”

To learn more about SPHERE, its programs and community activities, visit www.spherect.org

To learn more about Jean Cobelli and her dance production of “Nuts about the Nutcracker,” visit www.enchantedgardenarts.com

If you missed the show and would like to support SPHERE, please see their donation page for more information at www.spherect.org/get-involved/donate