Mutts take the stage in The Nutcracker

by Lenise Willis

In the past, Greensboro Ballet’s Nutcracker productions have included an Elvis-loving Clara, “Kyle Petty” on a motorcycle and even a spoof version called The Cracked Nut. Whether having men dressed in long johns and tutus, or adorable dogs scattered throughout the performance, Greensboro Ballet knows how to spice-up a holiday classic.

This year’s production will have a special one-time performance called The MUTTcracker, in which a dozen dogs will perform with the cast.

“Though most people might think of classical ballet as being very stiff, we here at Greensboro Ballet have a good sense of humor and we often incorporate it into our performances,” said Jennifer Gentry, Greensboro Ballet marketing director.

The idea for Greensboro Ballet’s special MUTTcracker production came from Artistic Director Maryhelen Mayfield, who saw that Charleston Ballet Theatre was performing something similar.

Mayfield said she loved the idea and thought it was something Greensboro Ballet could do to raise awareness and benefit a local animal shelter.

“The staff here at Greensboro Ballet are all animal lovers so we decided to do something with the Guilford County Animal Shelter,” said Gentry, who has an adopted cat named Rachel.

Mayfield also has a pet adopted from the shelter: a dog named Tobie. “Our staff is really hoping to spread some awareness of the need and, of course, the great benefit of adopting pets,” Mayfield said.

The special performance will raise awareness for the Guilford County Animal Shelter, and the staff is asking people to bring a donation of dry pet food to the theater that night.

The performance of MUTTcracker will actually be the traditional performance of The Nutcracker, but with dogs sprinkled throughout the performance.

“We have always had a small dog in our party scene, usually the dog of a local actor, Robert Harris, who portrays our grandfather in the party scene. One year his dog’s name was Tutu,” Gentry said.

This year, the dog that won that role is named Buddy and he will be performing in all of Greensboro Ballet’s Nutcracker performances with its owner, Terilyn Tyree, who was given the part of the grandmother.

Other dogs in the one-time production will mostly have walk-on roles and be paired with a Nutcracker family. These “actors” include Nicki, who was Toto in Community Theatre of Greensboro’s Wizard of Oz, Lily, Savannah, Pumpkin, Roxxanne, Louie, Bentley, who will be Uncle Drosselmeir’s dog, and King and Ginger, both of which will appear with the host family and possibly walk through during the battle scene.

Lupa, a pure white Siberian husky, will have a walk-on during the snow scene, and Lady, a white miniature poodle, will be carried by the lead character, Clara, through the snow scene. If rehearsals go well, Lady may get to sit with Clara through the entire Act 2, as well, when Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are sitting on a throne and watching the festivities.

The only dog that will actually be performing tricks will be Jasper who will have a surprise acrobatic part with Mother Ginger and her children.

Ann Cantrall, owner of Pumpkin, an English cocker spaniel, said, “I am honored that she was selected to be part of The MUTTcracker.”

Pumpkin is actually a breast cancer survivor.

Roxxanne is a rescue dog adopted from Loving Pet Inn Rescue by owners Claudette and Kenny Krell, who also adopted a cat from the Guilford County Animal Shelter just last month.

Louie, a retired racing Greyhound, though not adopted from the Guilford County Animal Shelter, was rescued and adopted by Noelle Bettini and her daughter, Alyssa Apple, from Project Racing Home in Randleman.

About 25 dogs and their owners showed up to audition on Nov. 4, but not all of them made the cut.

“I was looking for dogs that were very well behaved and that could easily handle all the distractions of a brightly lit stage with other dogs and 35 human cast members,” Mayfield said. “I was absolutely delighted with the dogs that came to the audition and was only sorry that I couldn’t cast them all.”

The cast and crew only rehearsed twice with the dogs before the big show on Friday since most dogs only have small walk-on roles.


Greensboro Ballet performs its special one-night only MUTTcracker at Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St., 8 p.m. Friday. Traditional The Nutcracker performances are Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $35, $25 and $15. For tickets or more information call 336.333.2605 or visit