Many budding ballerinas dream of one day taking the stage to perform in one of the most iconic Christmas traditions in dance, “The Nutcracker.”
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Nine-year-old Olivia Francis of Oklahoma has wanted to be a part of the magical Tchaikovsky production since she can remember, but she lives with a medical condition that seems to move that dream impossibly out of reach. It’s called Friedreich’s ataxia, and it’s terminal.
Friedreich’s ataxia affects only 15,000 people in the United States. The neurological disease makes it difficult for people to walk, and within five years of diagnosis, most patients are dependent on a wheelchair or walker.
Living with a chronic disease that has no cure is not easy. Hoping to lift her daughter’s spirits and remind her that in life, anything is possible, Olivia’s mother contacted the Oklahoma City Ballet to see if there was any way they’d consider including her in this year’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
To her surprise, they said yes!
Artistic director Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye created a role especially for Olivia. She plays the role of Marie, the sister of Clara. She appears on stage in a vintage wheelchair, and she can play the role for as long as she wants!
Oklahoma City Ballet School director Rachael Nye says there was never any hesitation about including Olivia in the production. Having her in the cast has been inspiring and eye-opening for all of the performers and audience members.
“When it’s Olivia’s turn to dance, everyone just has their eyes on her,” Rachael said. “It’s really something to see her on stage. It’s inspired everyone around her.”
When she found out she’d landed a part in the Nutcracker, Olivia cried tears of joy. She immediately found a family in the cast, who were supportive of her and happy she gets to fulfill her dream.
In a video the company shared on Facebook, Olivia comes off stage after the first performance to high fives all around.
“Having Olivia in this production has been a highlight for everyone involved!” they wrote as a caption.
Acceptance is at the heart of every cast and crew. We commend this company for including Olivia in their show, and we hope they keep the role of Marie open for other children who dream of sugarplum fairies and mice kings!
Share this story to send Olivia virtual flowers for her performance.
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