Four Ahwatukee high school seniors will be taking their final bows in the Ahwatukee Nutcracker next month. They include, from left: Madi Nash as Spanish Queen, Olivia Nash as Butterfly Queen, Jordan Torgerson as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Morgan Zittel as the Angel Queen.
Special to AFN

Four queens will dance in their last Ahwatukee Foothills Nutcracker Ballet in mid-December.  The four Ahwatukee residents are high school seniors preparing for college.

The ballerina quartet has been a part of this sparkling ballet for many years, making this last production a bittersweet experience.

They also performed a preview at last Saturday’s Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party.

Desert Vista High School senior Morgan Zittel is the Angel Queen this year. She was 11 when she played a lead doll in the Nutcracker party scene.  But in the ensuing years, she has performed in  many more roles.

“My past roles include lead doll, lead angel, China Queen, Angel Queen, Snow ballet Corps, Waltz Corps, fight scene, Arabian Corps, Marzipan Corps and Spanish Ballet Corps,” she counted down. “My favorite roll would probably be China Doll because I love how energetic the song and dance are, and the hot pink tutu is beautiful.”

Morgan, 17, said her main focus is dance. In addition to dancing at Studio 111, she dedicates her spare time to extracurricular dance activities as a member of the Desert Vista High Dance Company and varsity dance line.

The only daughter of Richard and Stacey Zittel, she has both an older and younger brother. She said her options for college include Vanderbilt, Duke and ASU, and plans to major in biomedical sciences.

Madi Nash, another Desert Vista High senior, also is performing for the last time in this year’s Ahwatukee Foothill’s Nutcracker Ballet, onstage at the Desert Vista Fine Arts Theatre for three shows on Dec. 16 and 17.

Now 17, Madi’s first role was when she was asked, sans audition, to be a March Girl at age 9. The following year, her first audition, she was cast as Clara’s Best Friend, among other roles as the dancers often perform various parts in several scenes.

She said though she’s played many roles since joining the cast, her favorite was as Snow Queen, and then the Mouse King two seasons ago.

Like Morgan, dance is paramount in Madi’s free time; she performs on two Desert Vista High dance teams in addition to being on the Dance Studio 111 Elite Team, for which she is captain. She’s also captain of her school’s Elite Dance Company.

“The Desert Vista Elite Dance Company practices for an hour every day the first hour of school. The DVHS Varsity Dance Line practices for two hours twice weekly. The Dance Studio 111 team has practice for four to five hours a week, plus, being in the Nutcracker, I practice every Saturday. I’m a busy person but manage my time wisely,” said Madi, the daughter of Dave and Tammy Nash.

Her sister Ally, a year and a half younger, is this year’s Russian Queen in the production.

Madi is yet undecided on which state school she’ll attend, but she is considering those that have “great dance teams.”

Desert Vista High senior Olivia Gregg, daughter of James and Linda Gregg, is part of a dance dynasty. She and younger sister Bella are constants on the local Nutcracker stage.  

Olivia was just three when she started dance lessons with Kimberly Lewis Dance Studio, renamed Dance Studio 111 after relocating seven years ago.

For her final year, Olivia dances as the Butterfly Queen while Bella performs as the Arabian Queen and Snow Princess.

“I’m so honored to be dancing the role of the Butterfly Queen again this year. It’s a role that

I truly love, and I danced the part originally when I was just 11. I can’t wait to perform,” exclaimed Olivia, 17.

“The most exciting thing about dancing in this year’s Nutcracker is that I get to watch some of the younger children that I’ve danced with for years now dancing en pointe in lead roles.”

Olivia is active in dance at Desert Vista and captain of the Varsity Dance line for the third year, and, with Madi, co-captain of the school’s Senior Elite Dance Company. Her goal is to dance competitively at college, either at the University of Arizona or Arizona State while pursuing a degree in physiology.

Jordan Torgerson, 17, is this year’s Sugar Plum Fairy, and is marking her 11th consecutive year in the cast. The senior at the Arizona School for the Arts in downtown Phoenix started as a 6-year-old, dancing in the roles of March Girl and Angel.

“I’ve always wanted to be Sugar Plum, and I absolutely love the role,” said Jordan, the daughter of Eric and Kim Torgerson. “My favorite role so far was the Snow Queen in 2-15. I’ve always loved the snow scene, and the queen role was magical. This is my eighth year in the snow scene.”

The snow scene she describes has become the stuff of local legend, an awe-inspiring stage moment when snow machines rain down ‘real snow’ on the actors and dancers.

The snow in the desert invariably gets a response from the theater goers, whether during the 2 p.m. matinees when they are encouraged to come on stage and play in the snow or chat with Santa after the performance, or the Saturday night 7 p.m. show, when the snow scene is reenacted.

Like her fellow queens, balancing dance and school is an art, but she says somewhat easier as her school provides academic classes in the morning, and dance classes each afternoon.

“I also take ballet and contemporary classes at Dance Studio 111. In total I train for about 14 hours a week, not including Nutcracker rehearsals. My school is a college prep school, so the workload is a lot and I have to manage my time between school and dance,” said Jordan, who plans to attend the University of Arizona, majoring in dance and biochemistry.

Dance Studio 111 owner Kimberly Lewis said seeing these four girls perform in their last Nutcracker is bittersweet.

“I have known these special, talented young ladies since they were little girls and came to their first dance class. I have loved watching them grow into the lovely young women they are,” said Lewis.

The 18th Annual Ahwatukee Foothills Nutcracker Ballet is at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. Dec. 17.

The Saturday matinee includes an after-ballet appearance of Santa Clause, and allows for photos with him and the cast, and is typically a sold-out show.

To purchase tickets, it is suggested they be purchased in person at Dance Studio 111, 4910 E. Chandler Blvd. Information: 480-706-6040 or email afnutcracker@gmail.com

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