The ballerina arrived almost incognito to Royal Oaks Elementary School in Woodbury, her tutu and pointe shoes tucked out of sight.
But even in an oversized hoodie and leggings, Dusty Button looked the part of a dancer, with her dark hair pulled into a tight bun.
When a young boy exclaimed, “Are you the Sugar Plum Fairy?” many of his classmates had already guessed her answer long before she called back, “I am!”
Button is one of two nationally renowned principals in town to guest star in Ballet Minnesota’s 30th anniversary performance of “The Classic Nutcracker.” Button will be performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy, joined by Rasta Thomas as her cavalier. The milestone production kicked off Friday at the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, with the final performance taking place at 2 p.m. Sunday.
In three decades of performances, the Nutcracker cast has grown from 20 dancers to more than 130, drawing as many as 10,000 people a year.
Earlier this week, Button paid a visit to a group of first-graders in Woodbury ahead of the students’ trip to see the famous show, with Ballet Minnesota offering weekday matinee performances at a reduced rate for community and school groups like the one from Royal Oaks Elementary.
“The best part about ‘The Nutcracker’ is the audience being mostly children,” said Button, 28.
During the visit, students listened to the classic story. The cafeteria soon became a classroom as the ballerina taught her young audience a short routine to the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music. Students flung their arms to the side and leapt in the air on Button’s cue.
“I think the jump can be better!” she called out as a chorus of sneakers thudded on the floor. “Can you do both legs?”
Before long, Button procured her pointe shoes and stiff, white tutu and passed them around. She then pulled on her silky shoes and hopped onto her toes to demonstrate various moves. Her feet glided apart for an échappé. Her limbs rose into a graceful arabesque.
Students peppered Button with questions about her career and how long she practiced (five to six hours a day, usually). Button, who has amassed more than 240,000 followers on Instagram, has trained at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre in New York City and the Royal Ballet School in London.
Until recently, she performed as a principal dancer at Boston Ballet, a company she left earlier this year to pursue more commercial work. She has performed in various productions of “The Nutcracker” for more than a decade.
“Everywhere I go, it’s a different version,” Button said. “So it never feels monotonous.”
The Royal Oaks students say they’ll be looking for classmate Peyton Huber, who has been cast in the show as a mouse. Taylor Huber, Peyton’s mom and executive director of Ballet Minnesota, says “The Nutcracker” offers an ideal foray into the world of the performing arts for kids: “For some, this is the first introduction to ballet and classical music.”
Seven-year-old Myla Michlitsch said it’s easy to lose yourself in all the costumes and the whimsical story.
“Sometimes,” Myla said, “I feel like I’m in it.”
Tickets for the “The Classic Nutcracker” are available online or by calling the O’Shaughnessy box office at 651-690-6700.