- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

The worst part about the Washington Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" is that it ends, according to hundreds of disappointed little faces in the Warner Theatre on Sunday afternoon.
The young visages brightened instantly, however, when they spotted the costumed nutcrackers, mice and country children waiting to greet them afterward at the Nutcracker Tea Party, down the street at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel.
Revelers said the best part of the annual tea party an 18-year-old holiday tradition is that it prolongs the festive feeling of Tchaikovsky's piece while earning some much-needed funds for the nonprofit Washington Ballet.
"It's so much fun to see the children get so excited about Christmas and the characters. It's as if the party in the show continues here," said Deborah Sigmund, a benefit committee member. Her daughter Hillary, 12, is a former member of the Washington Ballet School.
Hillary "enjoys coming back and seeing her old friends," Mrs. Sigmund said. "Once you dance in 'The Nutcracker,' it becomes part of your life."
The annual benefit gives children the chance to meet members of the cast, have their pictures taken with the Sugar Plum Fairy (danced by Michele Jimenez that day) and take home an autographed pair of toe shoes (or a nutcracker for the boys).
Washington Ballet founder and artistic director emeritus Mary Day said the tea party serves another purpose.
"This event has introduced theater to thousands and thousands of children over the years. It is their first experience with the theater," she said, sipping a cup of tea for the occasion. "I don't consider this a fund-raiser. It is a service to the community."
After being greeted in the hotel's lavishly decorated lobby, guests were ushered downstairs to the grand ballroom for finger foods and beverages. Children ran around getting autographs on the show's program and their own little autograph books, or plopped in a chair to try on their prized souvenirs.
"Sometimes the kids get scared and say 'whoa' because of my military uniform," said Mckenzie Tully, 13, who plays a soldier. "Mostly they just love to look at us."
"One kid came over and tried to take my candy cane," said fellow soldier Julia Walsh, 13, of the striped candy hanging from her belt. "I just gave it to her and got another one."
The cast members kept up their smiles, though some were preparing mentally for the night's performance. Many even had to run off early for a 3:30 p.m. makeup call.
The more than 350 guests included ballet board members, their friends and families, past attendees and their friends, and each paid $100 for the afternoon festivities.
"We try to keep the price reasonable, for families," said Washington Ballet board Chairwoman Kay Kendall. "There is some profit, but not much. There is so much more value in it just being a great holiday moment."
Mrs. Kendall said she spearheaded the event years ago after she threw a small party of her own in honor of daughter Katherine, who was dancing as Clara, and son Syd, as the Prince and it was a huge success.
"People really enjoyed continuing the party feeling," she said. "Today, this is our most popular fund-raiser, and being close to the characters in costume is just magical."
She conceded that the ever-popular toe shoes have caused some mishaps in the past.
"We didn't have enough toe shoes one year and had to go door-to-door [to the ballerinas] at the last minute," she said.
"Now we know to collect them all year round."

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