John Carlson and Sophie Ellis perform in Rockford Dance Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 1-2 at the Coronado Performing Arts Center. (Samantha Behling photo)

Rockford Dance Company’s ‘The Nutcracker’ Returns

Every year, Rockford Dance Company dazzles local audiences with its production of “The Nutcracker.” Learn why this year’s production is leaping to new heights.

John Carlson and Sophie Ellis perform in Rockford Dance Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 1-2 at the Coronado Performing Arts Center. (Samantha Behling photo)
John Carlson and Sophie Ellis perform in Rockford Dance Company’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 1-2 at the Coronado Performing Arts Center. (Samantha Behling photo)

Was it just a dream, or was it real?

“That’s really the main question of the whole show,” says Emily Cooke, executive director/artistic coordinator at Rockford Dance Company.

Every holiday season, ballet companies across the country don colorful costumes and perform against imaginative backdrops to Tchaikovsky’s famous score in “The Nutcracker.” This year, Rockford Dance Company is continuing the family-friendly tradition with two performances at the Coronado Performing Arts Center with live musical accompaniment from the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.

For Cooke, “The Nutcracker” is much more than just an item on a holiday checklist.

“On a deeper scale, it’s a beautiful introduction to the fine arts, specifically the performing arts,” she says. “Even more focused than that, it’s a great introduction to Rockford Dance Company. It’s a nice bridge to get people interested in dance.”

Meet a Few Dedicated Artists

Monica Isla, a faculty member at Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy, is returning for her third year to choreograph “The Nutcracker” for Rockford Dance Company. Every year, she aims to refresh and improve the choreography.

“I study the details and try to present to the audience a show that they can enjoy and remember,” she says. “‘Nutcracker’ is a story of love, imagination and fantasy. I hope we have a great audience this year and they can feel the season celebration.”

John Carlson, age 13, has been dancing at Rockford Dance Company since he was 5. This will be his third year double-cast as the Nutcracker Prince and “Fritz,” the misbehaving brother of main character Clara.

Every year, Isla makes Carlson’s choreography a little more advanced.

“He’s really come a long way in his ability to do partner work,” Cooke says. “It’s exciting for us to have to tweak some of the choreography because of the fact that he’s outgrown what he could do the previous year.”

Carlson enjoys the discipline and determination required to be successful at ballet.

“It’s really fun and rewarding when you do something great, like when you do a double tour and land on your knee, or you do a bunch of turns in second,” he says. “I always feel like it’s never enough, so I try to keep excelling.”

Sophie Ellis, age 16, is similarly dedicated. In February 2016, she dislocated her shoulder during a rehearsal. To try and prevent surgery, she underwent 25 weeks of physical therapy. Despite all of her efforts, she needed surgery anyway.

“I spent six weeks in a sling and then did another 25 weeks of physical therapy,” she says. “I use dancing and performances to motivate me. Dancing is a very big part of my life, and I can’t imagine not performing, especially in ‘The Nutcracker.’”

Despite occasional pain and cramping, Ellis has diligently trained to dance once again. She’s cast as multiple roles in this year’s “Nutcracker,” including a snowflake, flower, mirliton and doll. She’s also understudying other parts.

“I hope the audience takes away the magic of Clara’s journey and the magic this ballet has to offer,” she says.

Getting the Community Involved

In addition to all of the talented dancers at Rockford Dance Company, members of the community are encouraged to participate in “The Nutcracker.”

It’s the only production of Rockford Dance Company’s that has open auditions to the public.

“We’ve had Mayor Tom McNamara, business owners and parents who volunteer to be in the party scene,” Cooke says. “I think it creates a nice, positive atmosphere. Plus, it’s good to have outside dancers come in. The art community is very tight-knit and small in Rockford, in terms of how many organizations there are, so the better relationship we can have together, the better we can, hopefully, inspire people to have a love for the fine arts.”

This year, the community is further involved in the production with the inclusion of Rockford Symphony Orchestra. To Cooke, live music and ballet just make sense, and each is better with the other.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is always beautiful with what we call ‘canned music,’ or having a CD, but a live orchestra is even better,” she says. “It’s a beautiful partnership that brings two forms of performing arts together.”

Having the ballet/live orchestra partnership at the Coronado Performing Arts Center enhances the production even further, Cooke adds.

“The pure historical aspect of the Coronado takes the whole thing up a notch,” she says. “We’re able to hold a larger audience, but still have the show feel intimate. Because the Coronado does have an old feel with the way it’s painted and the stars on the ceiling – all of that makes it special and warm.”

Performances of “The Nutcracker” are Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, 314 N. Main St., Rockford. Tickets are available online at or, or at the Rockford Symphony Orchestra box office, 711 N. Main St., Rockford.

The Importance of the Arts

This year marks Rockford Dance Company’s 45th season. Because of funding and donations, the company is able to bring the joy of dance to underprivileged students, individuals with behavioral issues and others who wouldn’t otherwise have access to dance classes.

But in order for Rockford Dance Company to continue operation, the community needs to pitch in.

“I know every single arts organization, and not just ours, would say some of these big organizations in town need to start supporting the arts,” Cooke says.

“There are so many studies on dance and social competence, dance and dealing with trauma, dance and intelligence,” she adds. “Art is always the first thing to get cut, and you can see a difference in kids who have had exposure to movement and music, and those who haven’t.”

Donations to Rockford Dance Company may be made by calling (815) 963-3341.