Clinton Township sisters show stage presence - 12/15/04
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News from Utica, Shelby Township, Macomb Township, Clinton Township, Mount Clemens

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Clinton Township sisters show stage presence

Both perform in major Detroit productions

Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News

Ashley Willming, center, of Clinton Township plays a boy at a party in "The Nutcracker" production at the Detroit Opera House. Ashley, 11, was one of 70 children picked for the show.

Young performers

The Michigan Opera Theatre noted other Macomb County students who performed with the Joffrey Ballet in "The Nutcracker":

* Emily Greenwell, 13, Shelby Twp.

* Mary VanPamel, 12, Macomb

* Samantha Tortomasi, 12, Macomb

* Alyssa Burko, 9, Macomb

* Alyssa Iselli, 10, Macomb

* Alyssa Hindman, 12, Macomb

* Joseph Badalament, 10, Shelby Twp.


Ashley Willming

Paige Willming

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP -- Two young stars are rising from one family.

This holiday season, sisters Paige and Ashley Willming both earned roles with major shows in downtown Detroit. Ashley, 11, performed with the Joffrey Ballet in "The Nutcracker" at the Detroit Opera House, while eight-year-old Paige earned a walk-on role with the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Fox Theatre.

Ashley performed in "The Nutcracker" earlier this month, while Paige participated in the "Christmas Spectacular" during a matinee last week.

Both girls said these were the biggest audiences they've ever faced.

"I was excited," Ashley said about her performances. "We danced, but it was more acting." She played the role of a child attending a party in the first act of "The Nutcracker."

"Before the show started, they introduced me," Paige said about her experience with the Christmas Spectacular. "I was in the live nativity scene. I had a lot of fun." Instead of feeling nervous, she said, "I felt happy."

Dancing runs in the Willming family. The girls' mother, Alane, 41, danced from ages 3-18.

About 200 children auditioned for a walk-on role during the Christmas Spectacular, and Paige was one of two selected. The other was 7-year-old Zoe Harris of Detroit. Paige and Zoe were selected because they "had good stage presence and showmanship," said Lauren Campbell, of Olympia Entertainment, which operates the Fox Theatre. Campbell said the live nativity scene involved the entire cast of the Christmas Spectacular, including the donkey, sheep and camels.

Some 150 children auditioned for "The Nutcracker," and 70 were selected "completely upon ability and stage presence," said Dave Blackburn, of the Michigan Opera Theatre, which operates the Detroit Opera House.

Alane and her husband, Kurt Willming, 38, and their two daughters recently moved from Warren to Clinton Township. The girls now attend Walt Disney Elementary in the Fraser Public Schools system. Alane said the school has supported her daughters' performing schedules by allowing them to do schoolwork outside of the usual school hours. Ashley said she was allowed to go to school only in the morning for the week before "The Nutcracker."

"The girls are new to us this year and they're delightful," said Jennifer McGuire, principal of the elementary. Ashley is in sixth grade. Paige is a third-grader. "Both girls are extremely bright. Our policy is that family vacations and extracurriculars are important. We believe kids can learn beyond school walls. Can you imagine the learning opportunity for these girls? It's the opportunity of a lifetime."

Both girls have spent years preparing for their onstage opportunities. They attend Tina Marie's School of Dance in Warren near Chicago Road, where Ashley started at age 3 and Paige at age 2. They dance competitively and have won awards in regional competitions. Ashley practices at the dance school 15-20 hours a week.

Paige logs in about 12 hours of weekly practice, said Alane, and takes both group and solo lessons at the school. Coincidentally, Alane said, she won a solo dance competition with a routine called "I Want to Be a Rockette" before she knew she'd actually be on stage with the Rockettes.

Alane said her daughters don't ever seem to tire of dancing. Alane and Kurt are creating a dance area for the girls in the basement of their new home. It will include a special dance floor.

"They'd dance 24 hours a day if I'd let them," she said.

Cindy Hampel is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

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