Mom, daughter share role of Clara 30 years apart in Macon "Nutcracker"

When Jenny Clark performed the role of Clara in “The Nutcracker” in 1984, the production was much simpler than the annual version that Middle Georgians are now used to.

It was Jean Weaver’s first time mounting the production, and everything -- costumes to sets -- was pretty basic. The Nutcracker Prince’s head was even made of a repurposed lampshade.

Now, 30 years later, things have come full circle. The Nutcracker of Middle Georgia’s performances have grown into an annual Macon tradition -- and a much bigger production. So perhaps it’s appropriate that Clark’s daughter, Audie, is dancing as Clara in this year’s version, which opens Wednesday night.

“When she chose me, we were an experimental year,” Jenny recalled. “Lots of fun things happened. It was really neat, in retrospect. Back then, I was excited, thrilled, honored to be chosen. It was a special time.”

While watching her daughter take on the role, Jenny said it’s difficult to compare her version with Audie’s.

“Having my daughter play my role, you see the differences in Clara through the years,” she said. “I tell her all the time, ‘You’re way better than I ever was.’ There’s just no comparison to what (the show) is now.”

Even now, Jenny said she still plays out the dance steps of “The Nutcracker” in her mind every time she hears the music in a store or elsewhere.

For her part, Audie, a Mount de Sales Academy student who just turned 16 last week, isn’t stressing out while following in her mother’s choreographed footsteps, except to keep the family tradition going.

“There’s a little more pressure in that I really want to make her proud,” Audie said. “I see how special it is that we were both Clara.”

It helps that both Jenny and Audie grew up in households that have a love for the arts in general.

Jenny said her parents, Trish and John Dunaway, strongly encouraged those interests, and she often borrowed their records, dancing in her room to albums such as “West Side Story.” She’s had a lifelong love of dance, majoring in it at the University of Georgia and later owning her own dance studio in Macon.

Jenny said she and her husband, Chris, never pushed a love of the arts onto Audie or her siblings: Jack, 19; Marion, 10 (who also is dancing in this year’s ballet as a cavalry member); and Charlie, 8. Rather, she wanted their interest in the arts to develop organically, saying that children pick up on the things their parents love.

“Both of my parents have a very strong passion for the arts,” Jenny said. “My brother is a filmmaker. It’s definitely going through the generations. ... I think it does matter what you expose your children to. I think they need to be taken to the theater, to musicals, to get into the arts.”

Audie said she’s dreamed of being Clara since she was 3, saying she thought of her own nightgown as the same one as Clara’s. In fact, she’ll be performing the ballet in the same gown her mother wore 30 years ago. This will be the eighth year Audie has performed in “The Nutcracker.”

“I’ve done it ever since I’ve been old enough,” she said. “It’s been a tradition for me.”

Audie has watched old videos of her mother’s performance as Clara, but she said Jenny has never told her what to do when it comes to the part.

“It’s really cool to see how she would do it, and now I’m doing it,” Audie said. “She lets me put my own spin on it, but I definitely take in the corrections she gives me.”

Weaver said she’s had lots of family members perform in various versions of “The Nutcracker” over the years. Occasionally, she’ll slip and call Audie “Jenny” during rehearsals.

“I do it all the time,” Weaver said. “I’ve had lots of older sisters and younger sisters. The show itself has grown so much. We never knew (when Jenny performed Clara) how successful the show was going to be. ... I tell Audie stories about her mother. They’re very much alike. They’re both very talented. Both are some of my best dancers.

“It’s been wonderful that it’s happened this way. It brings back a lot of memories.”

John Dunaway, Jenny’s father and Audie’s grandfather, said it’s going to be an emotional experience for him and his family to see the show.

“It’s going to be hard for us to hold our composure,” he said. “It’s going to be intense. It was hard to do it 30 years ago, and I think it’s going to be even harder now. (The show) has made miles and miles of progress. It’s richer and better than before.”

As she gets closer to college, Audie said she hopes to follow her mother’s path, and plans to take some form of dance.

“I can’t imagine stopping in two years,” she said. “I definitely want to do something with dance. I’m definitely going to continue.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.