Below the Beltway

The Show Must Go On! Alexandria’s Nutcracker Continues for a 12th Consecutive Year

Despite the pandemic, co-directors Gennifer Difilippo and Adrienne Taylor are getting their dancers on stage.

Rylie Heiser in her happy place on stage, this time as Drosselmeyer in the 2019 production of The Nutcracker
(All photos: Laura Marshall)

Alexandria, VA – Despite the pandemic, co-directors Gennifer Difilippo and Adrienne Taylor are getting their dancers on stage.

“Yes, we’re putting on The Nutcracker in a pandemic,” laughed Gennifer Difilippo. “It’s crazy, but we’re doing it!” And that will surprise no one who knows Difilippo, West Potomac High School Dance Team coach and director of the local nonprofit, ArtSpireVA.

These darling little soldiers tapped their way through the party scene in the 2019 Nutcracker.

In its 12th year, the annual performance of The Nutcracker will look a little different due to the coronavirus pandemic. The cast was cut in half to allow for distancing during practice and performance. The show will be livestreamed, though some family members of the cast will be permitted to see it live, with restrictions. There won’t be a live orchestra.

While these changes will lend a different feel, the essence of this annual favorite is much the same: young dancers performing on stage, doing what they love to do. What’s more, Difilippo and Taylor are thrilled to highlight a few dancers who have performed in the production every year.

Kylie Rapp in front of “The Waltz of the Snowflakes” from the 2019 show.

Rylie Heiser, Paige Schoeffel, and twins Kylie and Payton Rapp, all high school seniors, have been kicking, leaping, and tapping their way across The Nutcracker stage since they were in first grade.

“Since my first year performing as a mouse, when I was six years old, The Nutcracker has been one of my favorite times of the year and continues to be an integral part of my dance experience,” said Kylie Rapp, who will be playing the role of Clara this year.

This year’s Evil Sugar Plum, Rylie Heiser, also expressed her love for the show. “Nutcracker means the world to me. It’s been my favorite way to express myself as a dancer and honestly, I would not know the joy of performing without it.”

From 2019, the Russian hip-hop dance is high energy and high kicking.

Keeping the guest choreographers closer to home this year in light of COVID-19, the directors tapped two of their alumnae, Anna Penkiunas and Lindsay Johnson, to lead some of the dances. Loudon resident Luke Spring, who danced at Arena Stage in Newsies last year, will take a turn in the choreographer’s seat. And Stacey Wallach, a retired professional dancer who joined the ArtSpireVA team last year, will expand her role to include choreography this year.

Sweet and pliable, the taffy from the 2019 show were in good form.

There are administrative changes behind the scenes as well. Difilippo and Taylor had launched the Alexandria Community Nutcracker as a business years ago, but decided to disband the business and fold The Nutcracker under ArtSpireVA. “Changing our business model will allow us to apply for grants so we can dedicate those funds to get more dancers on stage,” explained Difilippo. “This is really a win-win, because The Nutcracker will help ArtSpire provide more scholarships for youth in the arts.”

Dancers tall and small tap their way through the Russian dance in the 2019 show.

While The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition, this particular full-length production is anything but traditional. The directors incorporate many genres of dance, including ballet, hip-hop, jazz, gymnastics and tap. Classics are mixed with contemporary, and that will continue with this year’s performance. Rehearsals are being held outside, but will move indoors as the weather gets colder.

Stay tuned for more information on how to watch this year’s performance online. Tickets for the livestream will be available soon, with proceeds benefitting ArtSpireVA. Visit to stay up to date on all the details as the early December performance dates draw nearer.

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