Ella Knowles and Eden Popwell featured as ‘Clara’ in Andalusia Ballet’s annual production of ‘The Nutcracker’

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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The Andalusia Ballet will treat audiences once again this holiday season with its annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

Marking its 33rd performance of the holiday classic, Andalusia Ballet brings to life the story of a young girl who dreams of a nutcracker prince who battles the Mouse King.

Among the cast for this year’s production are Ella Knowles and Eden Popwell, two Andalusia Ballet students to be featured in the role of Clara.

Fan favorite Eric Lidh will delight audiences once again this year as he becomes the mystical Herr Drosselmeyer
in Andalusia Ballet’s
“The Nutcracker.”

“Both of these girls have a natural talent. When you can do something well you tend to enjoy it and want to work at it even harder,” said Meryane Martin Murphy, founder and artistic director for Andalusia Ballet.

Ella Knowles, 11,  is a sixth-grade home school student from Brewton who has studies ballet since she was 3, spending the past three years as a student at Andalusia Ballet through an outreach program with the Brewton YMCA.

“We were watching Ella for years and was so excited to have her join us in our Andalusia classes,” Murphy said.

For Ella, performing the role of Clara was a goal she set for herself from the very beginning.

“We had always come here to watch ‘The Nutcracker’ and I always wanted to be sugar plum fairy and Clara. That inspired me to start ballet. Once I started I knew it was something I wanted to continue to do,” Ella said.

“This is a big privilege and I’m excited to get to do it. It’s a big opportunity and responsibility,” she said.

Practices begin for “The Nutcracker” cast in October.

Ella has been part of “The Nutcracker” cast for five years.

“Practices are hard, but they are fun, too,” she said. “You are in it together with all the other dancers. Sharing the love of dance with everyone around you is always a lot of fun,” Ella said.

Ella is the daughter of Tiffany Knowles and Lee Knowles. She has a sister, Mattie Knowles, 9, who is also a student at Andalusia Ballet and will be a party girl in “The Nutcracker,” and a brother, Carter Knowles, 4.

Ella said her favorite part of the Nutcracker is the party scene. “The scene combines acting with dance and involves all ages of dancers, which is fun.”

This year, she is enjoying learning from those who have already experienced the role of Clara.

“Being around the older Claras and learning the dances from them is fun. They can pass their experiences down to help us,” she said.

Outside of ballet, Ella enjoys hand embroidery, hide and seek in the woods with my entire family, hanging out with friends, and learning piano.

Also performing as Clara will be Eden Popwell, 12, a sixth grade student at Andalusia Elementary School.

For Eden, ballet and dance is a family tradition. Her aunt, Laura Wells, assists as an instructor at Andalusia Ballet.

“I started when I was 2. My aunt and dad did dance. Everyone in my family wanted to carry that and a lot of my cousins do it now, too,” Eden said.

Eden said she enjoys the friendships she has with others at Andalusia Ballet and the comradery among all the dancers.

“I love hanging out with my friends and learning new things. I enjoy challenging myself to do my best and we all work together to improve. I really love pointe,” Eden said.

Starting as a ‘little party girl’ when she was about 2-years-old, Eden will be in her ninth “Nutcracker” performance this year.

“My favorite thing about ‘The Nutcracker’ is getting to watch all the big girls do their dances and then try to learn them myself. I also like hanging out with the smaller kids and helping them,” she said.

Eden hopes to one day perform in other coveted ‘Nutcracker’ roles.

“I would love to be the tree fairy, I think it would be fun and a privilege to do that. I also would love to be sugar plum. The dance is so amazing and fun,” Eden said.

When she’s not dancing, Eden enjoys hanging out with friends, swimming, singing and acting.

Eden is the daughter of Heather Cleland and Luke Popwell. Her step-father is Nick Cleland and she has four brothers, Trenton, Mitchell, Noah, and Adam.

Murphy said both Eden and Ella have grown as dancers and are ready to be featured in this year’s “Nutcracker” performances.

“We have watched them for many years and technically they are at a very good place with the development of their technique. They both have a great stage presence and work hard. They are perfect for the role of Clara,” Murphy said.

While each year brings a new set of dancers to the role of Clara, one consistent performer has been Eric Lidh, who will once again take the stage as Herr Drosselmeyer.

“Our dancers love working with Eric, who has been our Drosselmeyer all these years. This is our 41st season of Andalusia Ballet, so he’s been involved in many, many ‘Nutcracker’ performances over the years,” Martin said.

Eden, Ella and the rest of “The Nutcracker” cast will perform the classic ballet on Thursday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m.; and on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. All performances will be at LBW Community College’s Martha and Solon Dixon Center of Performing Arts. Tickets may be purchased online at andalusiaballet.com or at lbwcc.edu/events. For more details call 334-222-6620.