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December 14, 2012

Oneonta 'Nutcracker' reaches milestone

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — “The Nutcracker” has been a holiday tradition in the United States for decades, and few companies have more of a claim to it than The Folkine Ballet Company of Oneonta.

The company, under the direction of Donna Decker, will perform the famous ballet, with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, at the State University College at Oneonta for the 25th year this weekend.

Decker’s roots with “The Nutcracker” and ballet go back further — much further. Her mother was Irine Folkine, who choreographed the ballet in 1957, and her grandmother was Alexandra Fedorova, a prima ballerina at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Fedorova performed in the premiere of “The Nutcracker” in St. Petersburg, and she later staged one of the first versions of the ballet ever seen in the United States.

“My mom did ‘Nutcracker’ for 50 years, and she died two years ago in December, right before ‘Nutcracker,’” Decker said Thursday.

“So I inherited her first-act drop, which I always coveted. It’s a beautiful house drop. I do know that a lot of my former students are coming back for my 25th year, and that’s the one thing that I know is going to surprise them — that the house is different. It’s much more elegant than the original.”

Decker’s 25th year as director isn’t the only milestone this year. The performances Friday and Saturday will be the last for Slawomir Wozniak in the Oneonta “Nutcracker.” Wozniak, who has danced with companies in Poland and other European countries in Europe, will have appeared in 23 of the 25 Oneonta performances of “Nutcracker,” Decker said.

During that time, the production has evolved, she said.

“Sometimes, we just want to change; other times something is worn out so we have to do something about it,” she said. “You know, it’s funny you’re asking me this, because when you first asked I thought nothing has changed. Now, I realize a lot has changed.”

“Some years, we’ll change just according to who’s around, for instance,” she added. “I have some teenage boys who study with me. They’ve been with me since they were young. So last year, we added some to the ‘Waltz of the Flowers,’ and they dance with the girls.

Despite the paucity of male roles, two men will have appeared in every one of the 25 productions of “The Nutcracker” that Decker has directed.

“Joe Cornell, whose daughters were in the first production, has been a father in the first act since Year One,” she said. Dennis Higgins has played Clara’s father for all 25 years.

The company will perform Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 and 7 p.m. in the Goodyear Theater in the Fine Arts Building on the SUNY Oneonta campus.

Tickets are available at Green Toad Book Store, 198 Main St., Oneonta; The Eighth Note, 10 S. Main St, Oneonta; Augur’s Corner Bookstore, 73 Main St., Cooperstown; Rachel’s Framing & Fine Art, 84 Main St., Delhi; and at the Goodrich Theater box office in the Fine Arts Building, SUNY Oneonta.

In addition, tickets can be obtained by calling the Decker School of Ballet at 432-6290.