If you see an extra spark of magic in Mobile Ballet’s 2019 version of “The Nutcracker,” it’s no stage illusion. It’s thanks to actual romance.
That’s because a pair of near-about newlyweds will perform one of the centerpieces of Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas work. When Lilliana Hagerman and Lamin Pereira clasp hands for the grand pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, it echoes their same action at the wedding altar in August 2018.
“We started dating in my first year in Orlando. We’ve been together over seven years now,” Pereira said.
Both are ascending stars of the Kansas City Ballet. Earlier this year, the duo filled roles as Dorothy and the Tin Man with the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet, a stellar dream in the ballet world.
Periera’s dance-filled childhood in his native Rio de Janeiro earned awards and a scholarship at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York City in 2008, where he continued his prize-winning ways. Two years later, he was on contract with the Washington Ballet School in the nation’s capital.
Add that to his 2013 scholarship to the esteemed Jacob’s Pillow dance program and his featured performance there, and the summary is highly impressive.
In 2011, Pereira joined Orlando Ballet. He danced lead roles with Katia Garza, then a principal dancer in Orlando who became Mobile Ballet’s artistic director in 2018, and met his future wife.
“Lilli [Hagerman] was one of my first Titanias when I choreographed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the first time, in the Orlando Ballet second company,” Garza recalled.
Garza is aware of the unique pressures a dancer’s life puts on relationships. Her husband — Mobile Ballet Ballet Master Israel Rodriguez — was also a principal dancer in Orlando.
“What is difficult is to be lucky enough to find jobs together. We’re lucky to share our passion dancing together,” Garza said.
Pereira hedged his bets for that outcome. He held an open door ajar for another.
“When I was asked to audition here at Kansas City Ballet, I also asked if Lilliana could come. The director liked her video so she was allowed to audition,” Pereira said.
Garza has kept track of Pereira and Hagerman over the years. She’s quick to cite their successes — “I’m super proud” — and they appeared in a documentary about Garza’s life.
Pereira is likewise complimentary of his old colleagues, confident of their impact in the Azalea City. His initial visit to Mobile will be the first time he’s seen them in six years, by his estimate.
“They are great people to work with and have good energy and are very positive with everything they do. They’re very energetic and easy-going so you get to work with them and still have fun. They’re awesome,” Pereira said.
Another guest dancer — Paul Branco as the Nutcracker Prince — should be familiar to Mobile audiences from his role in 2018’s “Ovations” and October 2019’s “Giselle.” “Nutcracker” choreography is old hat, too.
“You don’t have the stress of learning something new. All we have to do is refresh the memory and work on stamina. That’s the hardest part,” Pereira said.
He explained the “8 to 10 minute” piece contains abundant lifting for the male and a lot of time on pointe for the female. Translation for sports fans: A gymnastics floor routine lasts 90 seconds. This is six of those.
“Because it’s so long, we have to rehearse a lot because it’s not something we do all the time. It’s pretty hard,” Pereira said.
The guests arrive and get straight to work. After a quick rehearsal, there’s three performances — 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 — in two days’ time.
Garza will use stage time to her students’ benefit. Though all 39 company members won’t be there, the entire cast numbers an astonishing 145 now.
“For example, we have three different casts of little mice. In total, there are 70 little mice, so I have to divide them in groups … and [the] little Chinese … we have three casts,” Garza said, laughing.
Every performance at the Mobile Civic Center Theater (401 Civic Center Drive) features a new collection of whirling rodents and Asians.
Tickets run $20 to $60. For ticket information, call 251-342-2241 or go to mobileballet.org.
Garza is thrilled. She considers it ideal student experience.
“Everything [Pereira and Hagerman] accomplished is with a lot of hard work. I think they’re a good example for my kids right now,” Garza said.
Then there’s the simplicity of personal connection.
“I’m excited to see them. They are good friends,” Garza said.
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