Ivy Smith (’20) says goodbye to Dixon Tradition

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Julianne Sun

Ivy Smith ('20) and Ailin Farley ('32), embrace after the final performance. "Why do tear ducts exist?" Smith said, wiping the tears off her face.

Julianne Sun, Print Director

“For kids, by kids” is the motto of Dixon Elementary’s production of The Nutcracker. Directed by Ivy Smith (‘20) and a cast of only Dixon students, The Nutcracker is not only a startlingly professional rendition of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, but also an extremely profitable fundraiser for The Fisher House, as the play aims to raise $8,000 this year.

Smith has been involved with The Nutcracker since its first shows in 2011. “It started in a neighborhood in 2011 when Madison Linnihan knocked on our door and said hey, we’re doing a production in the basement of the Gossets for their annual family Christmas party. I think that just inspired me to try out dance, because I didn’t really feel super passionate towards any other sports.”

Smith danced as Clara in 2012 when the production was moved to Dixon and started teaching the following year. Despite her involvement with the play, she didn’t take full leadership until four years later. Since then, the participation in the production has, according to Smith, “grown exponentially.”

“In 2012, it was probably a cast of roughly 40 kids,” Smith said. “In my first year of directing, which was about three years ago, it was about 100 kids.” The production continues to increase, currently at 132 cast members. “It’s just become more of an established tradition, which is pretty cool. I think that it’s kind of just taken root in a lot of people’s families, and it’s just become what you do. Like how Brookfield Elementary has a play or how the high schools have musicals.”

Sadly, the senior’s long history with the production is coming to an end. “I’m gonna miss these kids a lot,” Smith said. “It’s just been such a big part of my life and I think, if anything, it’s bittersweet. I know it’s cliche, but again, I love these kids a lot, and I’ve really put in a lot of work to this organization, and I guess heading into the unknown and not knowing if it’s going to continue is a little scary.” She even admitted that she never realized how much The Nutcracker influenced her life. “From September to December, me and my family eat, sleep, and breathe Nutcracker. You can look at my grades and see that they take a dip in this time of the year.”

“By kids, for kids” isn’t just an empty sentiment, after all. The Nutcracker is all exclusive; no potential dancers are cut, no matter how little dance experience they might have.

“I want the kids to have a chance to be seen,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the best at something or you’re the worst. I’ll still put you up there.”

Despite a spectrum of experience, Smith and her team of teachers do try to personalize each role for each child. They want to make sure that every kid feels comfortable in the role they have, and if that means simplifying the choreography, so be it. What matters most to the directors is that each kid feels like they can own what they do, and that they belong.

“In this world, there’s so [many] select sports and you have to get this score, and you have to be this good, and you have to have this amount of hours. Yeah, it’s a dance performance, and yeah, not every kid’s going to be the best dancer, but you’re good enough to be part of something. You’re good enough just the way you are.”
As much of a tradition The Nutcracker has become, Smith is unsure of its future. “I think the biggest thing is that if people like it, they’re going to have to put the effort forward to keep it, because I don’t know how many people actually know how much work goes into it.”

Kay Bisgrove, a freshman at Brookfield East and one of Ivy’s team of teachers, said she anticipated Ivy’s departure from the production to be “scary.”

“It’s kind of scary because Ivy’s done it for such a long time,” she said, “and before that it was Emma, and before that it was Maddy. Now it’s kind of like no one person is going to be able to do it, because we all have separate responsibilities, so next year it’s going to require a lot of teamwork and communication is going to be key.”

Elsa Jensen, a graduating fifth grader and lead chinese dancer in the play expressed her opinion on Smith’s departure. “It’s sad, very sad. She really works hard for all of us to get everything done, and it really means a lot with her helping us out.”

Ultimately, Smith believed that future productions of The Nutcracker will turn out fine. “I think it’ll be okay. When I first took it over, it was rough. I didn’t know half the things that Emma Favill did and that Madison had done, but I think the key is commitment. You just gotta keep going after it.”