Taking the stage

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Elise Sabin plays Clara in the Noble Dance Performing Company’s production of “Journey to the Land of the Sweets.” (Photo courtesy of Wayne Murphy of JMK Photography)

When Elise Sabin steps into the role of Clara in the “Journey to the Land of Sweets,” she admits it’s a challenge.

Sabin has practiced alongside her fellow dancers with the Noble Dance Performing Company for up to two hours, six days per week to prepare. She also has years of ballet training and summer intensives on her resume.

But the part of Clara, in the abridged version of the holiday classic the “Nutcracker,” is different than most performances she’s been a part of. When she comes onto the stage at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center this weekend, Sabin will be playing a character rather than dancing on stage as herself.

“It’s outside my comfort zone,” she said last week. “There is a lot of acting and making sure you are taking on the persona of that person. Each movement has to be that person.”

In “Journey to the Land of Sweets,” Sabin plays Clara who dreams her toy soldiers to life and finds herself in the middle of a battle between her toys and the house rats. When the battle subsides, Clara is transported to the sugary Land of the Sweets.

Sabin, who is a junior at Whitefish High School, began ballet young, but says when she was in fourth grade she began to get more serious about dancing. Though she’s tried jazz, hip-hop, modern and contemporary dancing, it is ballet that has remained her focus.

“I wanted to be a ballerina — the pointe shoes, the tiara,” she said. “It developed from there.”

“It’s my escape place,” she says of ballet. “I prioritize it way more than I should, but I’m always working to get better. All the girls [in the company] are so supportive.”

For the past three summers, Sabin has participated in summer intensives to train in ballet. In 2016 she traveled to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and last year she went to the Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland. Sabin trained last summer at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Sabin says training at the summer sessions gave her an understanding of what it’s like to train as a professional dancer. Practicing six days per week for six hours, she said, was exciting, but also exhausting.

“It gives you the opportunity to really focus only on that,” she said. “You get a lot better, a lot faster.”

While she praises the training she has received under Natalie Molter, she says the summer intensives provide an opportunity for instruction from a different perspective.

“With ballet you’re always growing,” she said. “You’re always trying to get better with your technique and presentation. It can be overwhelming, but you pick away at it and it’s a good feeling when you achieve it.”

Though she has come to spend hours practicing ballet and has a much more grown up understanding of it than when she was little just starting out, somethings still remain the same.

“The costume fittings are so much fun,” she said.

The Noble Dance Performing Company presents “Journey to the Land of the Sweets” Dec. 7-9 at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center under the direction of Natalie Molter.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec 7, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec 8, and 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec 9. Tickets are $18 adults, $8 students. All tickets are reserved seating and are available at nobledance.org.

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