LUZERNE — Ballerina Olga Aru hunkered down to look one tiny dancer in the eye.
“Do you want to be in the ballet?” she asked the wide-eyed 6-year-old named Gabrielle.
The child nodded solemnly.
“Then you must practice holding your arms like this,” Aru said, demonstrating a classic position in which slightly rounded arms frame a dancer’s face. “You promise to practice?
Gabrielle agreed, and the two dancers — one accustomed to pointe shoes and international applause, and one just starting out in soft slippers — joined hands palm-to-palm, sealing the pact with a touch.
They may see each other again in about seven weeks, when the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” comes to the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre to present its annual holiday show on Dec. 9.
As the ballet travels from city to city, audition director Aru visits various locations in advance and selects young dancers to be part of the show. Earlier this week, she auditioned several dozen children and teens at the Harris Conservatory for the Arts in Luzerne.
Over the next several weeks, Elisabeth Harris from the conservatory faculty will help the chosen dancers prepare for the show, and in December they will appear on stage with the professional company in such auxiliary roles as snowflakes, mice, party children, snowmaidens, and representatives of various countries.
“It was really exciting,” 11-year-old Kendalyn Gerhardt of West Wyoming said, recalling how she wore a bolero jacket and danced a “Spanish” role last year.
“She looked like a little matador,” said mom Christine Gerhardt, who accompanied her daughter to the tryouts.
This year, Kendalyn learned she’ll be dancing a “Chinese” role — which she said sounds like fun.
Stretching out before the audition, Hannah Farber, 14, from Pittston said it didn’t matter what part she might get, she was simply thrilled for a chance to dance with the Moscow Ballet company, whose “Nutcracker” features Russian folk legends Father Christmas/Ded Moroz and Snow Maiden/Snegurochka, life-size matrushka dolls and a Dove of Peace with a 20-foot wing span that is formed by two dancers moving as one.
“They just seem so skilled and talented,” Hannah said.
While the girls waited to audition inside a classroom studio, their moms waited in a crowded hall outside and talked about how valuable they believe the opportunity is.
“She gets to dance with people she aspires to be like and she gets to see their work ethic,” said April Fisch of Cresco, whose daughter, Claudia, 12, has participated in the “Great Russian Nutcracker” for several years. No slouch herself when it comes to a work ethic, Fisch expects to drive an hour each way to bring her daughter to rehearsals.
Back in the audition hall, Aru taught routines to the dancers, who come from several other dance studios as well as the Harris Conservatory for the Arts.
“I’m looking for young talent, with dedication,” she said, explaining she sees about 2,000 young dancers each year in various cities.
As the girls twirled and knelt and waved their arms like snowflakes, Christine Gerhardt reflected on how happy she was to see her daughter participate in the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” last year.
“She’s thrilled to be up there,” she said, admitting that seeing her daughter on stage has brought her tears of motherly pride. “I think it’s every little girl’s dream, and she gets to be living it.”