Thursday, December 16, 2004


Sixteen-year old Mark Tucker will be performing in "Nutcracker" presented by Ballet Hawaii. Although his family lives here, his dance studies led him to a private high school in North Carolina. Helping him with his form is Ballet Hawaii artistic director Pam Taylor-Tongg.

Dancer in demand

Giving up Hawaii isn't easy when you enjoy surfing, swimming, the beach, the weather and Korean food. But for 16-year-old Mark Tucker, the opportunity to study ballet at the North Carolina School of the Arts was too good to pass up. Tucker was accepted for summer classes and invited to stay for his junior year in high school. Now he's back for three weeks at home and a double role in Ballet Hawaii's annual production of "Nutcracker" this weekend.


Presented by Ballet Hawaii

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall

When: 8 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25 to $55, available at Blaisdell box office, Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 877-750-4400 and online at www.ticketmaster.com

"My whole family is here, my grandmother, tutu, is here, and leaving all that was hard to give up -- surfing was especially hard to give up," Tucker said, calling shortly after his flight arrived late Monday, and while en route to a five-hour workout at the Ballet Hawaii studios.

Five hours of dance may sound like an eternity to sedentary types, but it is apparently just another day on campus for a young dancer on the rise. There's a shortage of male ballet dancers in America because far more women than men are willing to enter the physically demanding profession; tall men are particularly in demand.

"At North Carolina School of the Arts," Tucker said, "we dance seven or eight hours a day, three or four classes a day, two hours of rehearsal ... and all the guys go to all the partnering classes. We take partnering classes three times a week with each level of girls -- four upper-class levels, and that would include all the college dancers and all the high school dancers in 11th and 12th grade, and (with some levels) once a week.

"Since there's usually more girls than guys, we usually get partnered with several of them, and if the two of you aren't working together you try someone else.

"A lot of it (working together) is timing," Tucker continued. "Knowing your partner and getting used to the way they move helps a lot. It's not just muscles; you also need a lot of technique."

Height becomes important as well. Toe shoes add several inches to a woman's height when they go en pointe, and male dancers need height as well as strength and agility to work with them.

Tucker, who stands 6 feet 1 inch tall, is usually partnered with women who are about 5 feet 9 inches tall when not en pointe.

"It's not (always) a weight thing, but a height issue," Tucker said. "I get partnered with the tall girls, which is OK, 'cause I'm taller, but it can be very difficult for a shorter guy to partner."

AN OFFER TO dance here if he was needed resulted in Tucker's enlistment in Honolulu's annual big-scale production of "Nutcracker," produced by Ballet Hawaii in conjunction with the Honolulu Symphony. New York City Ballet stars Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz share top billing this year as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier Prince. Sandra Brown is dancing the roles of the Snow Queen and the Dew Drop, Timour Bourtasenkov dances the Snow King, Theresa Miyosi Wendler plays the Colombine Doll, Sean Stewart dances the Soldier Doll and partners with Daphne Hargrove in the Arabian fantasy number, and perennial favorite Michael Vernon returns as the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Tucker will be one of the parents in Act I and return as one of Bourtasenkov's fellow Russians in Act II.

"I just came from the 'Nutcracker' in North Carolina that we did at the school -- and I was a party parent, a rat and a Russian -- so I'm pretty much doing the same thing here. At North Carolina, the dean of the school watched us take a couple of classes, looked at our height and our technique and said, 'You do this, you do that,' or he'd have us learn several dances and then pick. Sometimes, he'd double-cast things.

"(Coming home), I told Miss Pam (Taylor-Tongg), the director of Ballet Hawaii, 'If you need me, I'm here for you. If you don't, it would be nice to have a break' ... and she sent me a video so I could learn it."

Tucker returns to school in Winston-Salem, "about three hours away from the beach," in January to complete his junior year. If he stays through graduation in 2006, he could continue on to get a college degree or start dancing professionally.

TUCKER GOT involved in entertainment when his tutu encouraged him to taking singing and acting classes. A "musical theater experience" at Diamond Head Theatre piqued his interest in stage work, and he joined the DHT Shooting Stars program. A Shooting Stars jazz dance class got him interested in dance. He also performed in "Santa's Light Parade" at Ala Moana Shopping Center, and it was there that "one of the moms told my mom" that he should study ballet.

"I wasn't too fond of ballet then, but my mom started me anyway. I didn't like it all, but she kept me at it, and some of my friends got into it, and I started liking it more and more. Gradually I stopped (doing) community theater and focused more on my dancing technique -- primarily classical ballet."

Ballet became his life about a year ago.

"I'd been named Most Inspirational Player on the (MidPac) water polo team (and) I was on the varsity sailing team, and I loved it all (but) I realized that I loved dance more and I should just do what I love."

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