Sunday, December 12, 1999

'Prince' delights in dance

Young 'Nutcracker' performer thrives on the experience, despite all the practice

Enquirer contributor

Gerald Haynes peers from beneath the head of his Mouse Prince costume.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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        Even a prince has to take out the trash, dry the dishes and clean his room. Gerald Haynes, who will dance the Mouse Prince in Cincinnati Ballet's Nutcracker beginning Friday, discovered early on that being cast in a princely role didn't change his status at home. But it did make life a lot busier.

        Mom and Dad — Courtney and Gerald Sr. — are pleased as punch he's dancing, but they haven't cut their 12-year-old any slack in the chore department.

        So many youngsters eagerly fill their free time during the holiday season with long rehearsals, costume fittings and countless trips to Cincinnati Ballet studios on Central Parkway to be a part of Nutcracker.

        Why? We decided to follow Gerald around and find out. We chose him because he's only been dancing a year and this is his first ballet. And he's already decided his future: “I want to dance ... , ” he says. “... classical dance.”

The audition
        The road to Music Hall started on a hot September Sunday when nearly 600 children crammed into Cincinnati Ballet studios to compete for 150 positions. There are 75 children's roles, double-cast to give more kids a chance to participate. Each group does eight performances.

Gerald is often the only boy among 33 girls who dance as soldiers.
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        The atmosphere was hectic and tense. Parents waited anxiously in the parking lot for children to come out the back door with news that they'd made it - or not. No parents were allowed inside.

        Gerald was lucky; his group finished by 2:30 p.m. The last group to be cast left nearly five hours later.

        We caught up with him in a crowded, noisy waiting room as he picked up his dance bag to leave. While the other Mouse Prince, Allyson Cameron, jumped up and down with tears streaming down her cheeks, he was standing quietly. He looked stunned.

        When asked later if he was expecting to be cast, he said he really wanted it, but had no idea.

        “I was shooting to be in that scene, but I wanted to be a soldier.”

The rehearsal
        What Gerald discovers about soldiers is that they're all girls — and he has to rehearse with them. He's often the only boy in a studio with 33 girls, which he insists does not bother him. Nevertheless, we spot him standing shyly and alone at the barre in a room abuzz with chatter.

Gerald takes ballet class at SCPA.
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        A dozen two-hour practices were scheduled for his group. The earliest ones are slow and tedious as every movement and step is set to a count. Half the group sits and waits as one cast at a time is taught.

        Rehearsal director Tama Alesson, who seems to have every Nutcracker step committed to memory, calls out “5-6-7-8” and shows soldiers where to go and how to move. They are preparing the scene where toy soldiers battle mice of all sizes in a fight to the finish. Gerald gets to cry crocodile tears when his stage dad, the Mouse King, is slain.

        He forgets his entrance, and Ms. Alesson starts again. Sixteen girls drag plastic baseball bats behind them as they prepare to re-do the scene. The bats are substitute props for the toy guns they'll use on stage. Occasionally someone gets whacked by an erratic bat.

        On the second try, Gerald makes his entrance at the right time, but Ms. Alesson sends him back anyway.

        “Your jumps are good, but I want big arms,” she says, throwing her arms in a big circle over her head. They run the entrance over and over until she is satisfied.

        Action stops again when Ms. Alesson says Gerald isn't broad enough in his taunts of the trumpeter.

        “I really want you to annoy her,” she says. Then to the trumpeter, Casey Klemm, “No, you can't hit the Mouse Prince on the head with your trumpet. He's royalty.”

        It's a snail-like process. Surely our 12-year-old wonders why he is doing this. He plays baseball in the summer, but this moves slower than any baseball game. But when asked how things are going, he smiles and answers, “I think it's going really well.”

The preparation
        Discipline — and a lot of patience — is learned at the barre. Serious students take ballet class each day, and Gerald is quite serious.

        As a seventh grade student at School for Creative and Performing Arts, he studies science (his toughest subject), math, English, history and band. He plays the clarinet, but dance is his favorite subject.

        He's in Elaine E. Eckstein's beginning ballet class every day without fail.

        “What we like about him is he's cooperative and understands how you get from step A to step B,” Ms. Eckstein says. “He doesn't say much, but he's always here.”

        In an SCPA studio, holding on at the barre (a wooden railing that circles the room's perimeter), he works intently, warming his muscles with slow bends and stretches.

        It's later in class, when the exercises are bigger and faster, that his face lights up. He sails across the mirrorred room with uninhibited abandon.

        “I like going across the floor the best,” he confides later.

        He finds freedom in dancing. Gerald has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder, and he's discovered movement - big movement - releases something inside him.

        “He loves it,” his mother says. “In dance he's free to express himself. It's opened avenues and areas we never thought would be available to him.”

        His Tourette's is not noticeable. He takes medicine to keep the tics usually associated with the disease at bay. But Mrs. Haynes says he has often struggled to sit still and to concentrate in academic classes. Not so in dance.

The family
        Mrs. Haynes is a full-time student at University of Cincinnati in the education department; Mr. Haynes drives a truck for Noramco. Gerald has two sisters: 10-year-old Gabrielle plays the clarinet, and 8-year-old Gela-Rose dances. Both girls play soccer and attend Fairview German Language School. Gerald's half sisters, Cassandra, 17, and Tiffany, 14, visit often.

        The Haynes' Over-the-Rhine apartment is warm and cozy. Children's soccer and baseball trophies compete for space on top of a side cabinet in the living room. If a spare moment shows up, Dad and kids sneak in a quick card game at the coffee table.

        It's four blocks in either direction to SCPA or Cincinnati Ballet studios. Gerald walks most days; on late nights, his mom picks him up after class. The downside to having a car in the city, Mrs. Haynes says, is feeding the meter out front all day.

        Outside their apartment it's noisy with traffic and crowded with people. Inside there's a quiet respect as kids and parents talk. “Yes ma'ams” and “no sirs” flow easily. Family time is most often enjoyed around a big meal, which always starts with grace. Everyone's favorite is Mrs. Haynes' lasagna.

        The children's day starts at 6:30 a.m., but Mr. Haynes has already been up two hours and is out the door by then. He's home when the kids return from school.

The performance
        Mrs. Haynes keeps everyone headed in the right direction by mapping their activities on two giant calendars. The big day - Nutcracker opening - is prominently marked. The whole family will be there.

        As the Mouse Prince, Gerald will slip into a costume that hides the lean muscles he's worked so hard to develop.

        “It's all fat and I wear a big plastic head,” he says.

        Does this mean he's having second thoughts about this ballet thing? No way.

        Three months and countless hours of practice and class time later, he's still hooked.

        He's been reprimanded for showing up late to a rehearsal, and his nights and weekends have been filled with classes and rehearsals. Would he want to do this again?

        “I'm going to try to,” he says.

        Each young dancer has a reason for wanting to experience this. Gerald's is found in the power he feels dancing.

        “I've learned how to move,” he says.

        • What: Cincinnati Ballet's Nutcracker

        • When: 2 p.m. matinees; 7:30 p.m. evenings, Dec. 17-26

        • Where: Music Hall

        • Tickets: $7-$39, Ticketmaster outlets and Music Hall box office or charge-by-phone, 241-7469. Groups of six or more, 621-5282


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