Star power for Yellowstone Ballet Nutcracker

Nicole Assaad stars as Clara in 30th annual production, Nov. 28 in Bozeman

On Stage

The Yellowstone Ballet Company presents its 30th annual production of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28, at Willson Auditorium in Bozeman.

Nicole Assaad, formerly of Hong Kong Ballet, dances the role of Clara, the girl who breaks the Rat Queen’s evil spell and restores Count Drosselmeyer’s nephew, the Prince, to life.

Molly Huemphner-Groeschl of Madison Ballet steps on stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Molly Huemphner-Groeschl of Madison Ballet steps on stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Joining Assaad are two accomplished dancers from Madison Ballet: Molly Huemphner-Groeschl as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Damien Johnson as the Nutcracker Prince/Cavalier. Bozeman’s artistically passionate and delightful Raison D’être Dance Project, under the direction of Erin Levi and Genevieve Trygstad-Burke, join the production with their spectacular choreography and performance in the Snow Scene and Waltz of the Flowers. Martinsdale Ballet director Annie Valle performs in the Arabian Dance along with six of her students.

YBC is under the artistic direction of founder Kathleen Rakela, a recipient of the Montana Arts Council Fellowship for the Performing Arts. The company has been featuring local, national, and international dance talent in the Livingston/Bozeman area since 1990. Rakela also runs the Yellowstone Ballet Academy, whose students have received scholarships to world class ballet training centers and have danced professionally around the world.

“Producing a full-length Nutcracker during a pandemic is like pushing a boulder uphill,” says Rakela. The Willson Auditorium has strict COVID requirements that must be followed by cast, crew and audience, but nonetheless “every once in a while one of the cast has to be quarantined due to having contact with someone who tested positive.” She says fundraising “has been a bit more difficult” and travel complications could be challenging for the guest artists.

Damien Johnson of Madison Ballet is the Nutcracker Prince/Cavalier.
Damien Johnson of Madison Ballet is the Nutcracker Prince/Cavalier.

“Otherwise, the cast is so excited to be performing again and they are ready to give a knockout performance.”

Nicole Assaad: Big energy, charming stage presence

At age 15, Nicole Assaad captured gold and silver medals from the American Dance Competition and a bronze medal from the World Ballet Competition. She moved to New York City to study at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy under a full scholarship and joined the company a year later.

The young dancer’s performance in Flames of Paris was described as “big energy, big jumps, big turns, charming stage presence … an explosive performance” by Hayglund’s Heel Blog.

“If there were a prize for adorableness, Nicole Assaad would have run off with it for her performance of Columbine in the closing Commedia dell’arte classic, Harlequinade,” wrote Huffington Post. “Beyond being pretty to look at and a strong technician, Assaad packs her dancing with little moments that show how well she has studied the part.”

While dancing at the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Company, Assaad submitted an audition video to Hong Kong Ballet and received a contract. She’d never been out of the U.S. before, but thought, “Why not?” she says, noting that the company’s expansive repertoire was a big draw. “I gave my parents a huge speech about what a great opportunity it is – I had to warm them up to the idea.”

Besides being showcased in Dance Magazine and Pointe Magazine, Assaad was featured in Hong Kong Living Magazine.

The dancer says meditation instruction from her mom has helped ease her on-stage jitters. “Meditation and focus have been my key to reaching complete Zen on stage. Once I achieve that level of relaxation I feel nothing but joy.”

Yellowstone Ballet Nutcracker Admission

To encourage families to attend Yellowstone Ballet’s Nutcracker, every adult ticket purchase qualifies for a free children’s ticket. Children can also come dressed as the Snow Queen, the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Count Drosselmeyer or any other Nutcracker character. During intermission there will be a Nutcracker costume contest, with prizes for the best costume and a free gift for every child in attendance.

Reserved tickets for Yellowstone Ballet’s Nutcracker are available at

For more information email [email protected] or call 222-0430.