WEST HARTFORD — When Gabrielle Collins was a young girl performing with the Hartt School Community Division, she dreamed of being a professional ballet dancer.

Now the 25-year-old from West Hartford is doing just that as a member of the Cincinnati Ballet, and will return home to perform in her former dance school’s annual performance of the Nutcracker the weekend of Dec. 10.

“It’s really special. I’m really excited,” Collins said. “Everything is coming full circle. During those days of being in the Community Division, I dreamed of what I'm doing right now.”

Collins started with the Hartt School Community Division, which is the extension of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School that is open to the public, when she was 13 years old. A few years later, Collins graduated from Conard High School and went into her professional career with Atlanta Ballet.

“The teachers and the faculty were really amazing,” Collins said. “They were from all different backgrounds and had different methods of training. That was very helpful at exposing me at a pretty young age to all different kinds of methods and techniques. It was really important in preparing me for a professional career.”

Collins said it was an easy decision to come back to West Hartford for this show. This year marks her 20th consecutive appearance in the Nutcracker ballet.

“It’s a very special ballet to me,” Collins said. “It’s been part of my life since the beginning of my dance training. I always had a dream to be a sugar plum. To get to do it again and being home is really cool.”

Perhaps more important, she said, is that she gets to be the kind of role model that professional dancers once were to her. The show has dancers as young as 7 years old.

“I want these students to know if you work hard you can get to where I am as well,” Collins said. “It’s going to be really nice to be back on that stage and be around familiar faces. Some of the kids who are grown up now, I remember when they were little. And now they are doing some of the more advanced roles and leading roles.”

Sarkis Kaltakhtchian, the artistic and educational director of the Hartt School Community Division, said the annual performances that the school’s young students participate in allow them to gain important experience.

“It’s a great way to give the younger students the opportunity to be on stage and get a chance to perform,” Kaltakhtchian said. “They get to be on stage and perform with professional dancers. This is a great opportunity for the students and their families.”

Kaltakhtchian said involvement from a dancer like Collins adds even more to that experience.

“I think it gives them inspiration,” Kaltakhtchian said. “It gives them an idea that if they really want to pursue this professionally they can. We give them all the opportunities to become a professional dancer if they choose to. It’s nice to be in an environment where if they work hard and pursue their dream they can become a professional dancer.”

Collins expects friends and former teachers to be in the audience, as well as her parents and family.

“My parents...if they want to come see me perform, it’s a big deal to travel,” Collins said. “I will be up on that same stage where they used to see every show for years and years and years.”

Collins will only be dancing in the series of Nutcracker performances on Dec. 10, 11 and 12. Other Community Division performances of the Nutcracker will be on Dec. 17, 18 and 19. All performances will be held in the Alfred C. Fuller Music Center’s Millard Auditorium at the University of Hartford. Tickets are available online.

Connecticut Media Group