The role of Clara in “The Nutcracker” is probably the dream of many young ballerinas.
It was for Grace Davis, 13. But the route to get there was infinitely more challenging for her than most. Diagnosed with leukemia when she was 5½, Grace endured 2½ years of chemotherapy. After a year of allowing her body to heal, she began ballet lessons at 9.
“When I was 8 or 9, I had a family friend who played Clara in New Mexico, and it inspired me,” said Grace, who is home-schooled through the online Connections Academy. “I wanted to dance and be Clara someday, even though I didn’t know if I’d be able to.”
Her family moved to Colorado Springs, and soon she was dancing at the Colorado Ballet Society, diligently working to build her strength and flexibility, which were ravaged by cancer treatments. Last year, she starred in the Colorado Ballet Society and Colorado Youth Ballet’s “A Colorado Nutcracker” as an orphan in the party scene and an icicle in the winter scene.
It was all a precursor to this year, when she and her fellow dancers opened their casting letters for Tchaikovsky’s popular ballet.
“As soon as I saw Clara, I started to cry,” Grace said. “It was so overwhelming, in a fabulous, beautiful way. I was so thankful and so thankful to God for everything I’ve gotten to do in my dancing career.”
She and Ashley Campbell will share the role of Clara in four performances of “A Colorado Nutcracker.” Grace will portray Clara Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The shows are Saturday and Sunday at Pikes Peak Center.
In a new twist, Grace is also this year’s Dancer for the Day, a program started in 2010 by a Colorado Ballet Society and Colorado Youth Ballet student. For her senior class project at Pine Creek High School, Hannah (Olson) Diener wanted to help a child facing a life-threatening illness fulfill a dream of being on stage in the annual ballet. This is the first time a dancer already cast in the show was offered the recognition.
Grace is “a very gracious person,” said Patricia Hoffman, founder and director of the Colorado Ballet Society and Colorado Youth Ballet. “She’s always just humble and excitedly wants to take on whatever’s offered her. She looks at everything as an opportunity for how she can love someone else.”
Hoffman said that when she offered Grace the opportunity, the young dancer wanted to make sure she could recognize other children experiencing the sort of medical issues she faced. She suggested they start a toy drive and deliver presents to children receiving treatment at a Briargate medical facility over the holidays.
“I spent one Christmas Eve in the ER, and it was tough,” said Grace. “Nurses tried to make it special, but it’s not the same as the way you would spend it at home. I decided what was really helpful was special gifts. If we at the Ballet Society did a toy drive and take them to hospitals, that will help make the holidays special for those kids.”