Watching A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre for the first time can be an emotional experience for just about anyone, but for dancer Noelle Kayser it was downright traumatic.
“I flipped out,” she says. “They had to take me away. I couldn’t deal with it.” She wasn’t simply being moved by Dickens’ tale of renewal at Christmastime. When she was six, her father, Atlanta actor Chris Kayser, was playing the role of Scrooge’s much-beleagured clerk Bob Cratchit. During an early scene when Cratchit receives the full force of Scrooge’s wrath, Noelle had to be taken from the theater. “I was like, ‘Quit yelling at my dad!’“
Fortunately, over the years, Noelle adjusted to seeing her dad onstage. Throughout her life, her father has been one of the city’s most visible and respected actors, appearing at nearly every theatrical venue in the city in countless roles, performing as everything from Richard II, Titus Andronicus and the spirit Ariel to the Marquis de Sade, Will Rogers, Roy Cohn and the god Apollo. He played Bob Cratchit for a couple years, but he became especially well-known in Atlanta for the 16 years he played Ebenezer Scrooge in the Alliance’s ever-popular A Christmas Carol.
Noelle, now 24, is following in her father’s footsteps to the stage, but pursuing a life as a professional dancer. “I never questioned it,” she says. “I loved dance, I loved the theater. It wasn’t really a choice.”
Noelle grew up in Decatur and began performing at an early age. Her earliest appearances on stage were beside her dad in A Christmas Carol, first as Belinda then as Melinda Cratchit. “That was a huge bonding experience for me and my dad, going to work with him everyday,” she says.
But it wasn’t just her dad who kindled her interest in performing. Noelle’s mother, Terri Kayser, runs and teaches at the Cartersville School of Ballet. Terri performed as a dancer with a number of companies and touring productions throughout the 1980s, and she also choreographed for the stages of the Alliance Theatre, Theatre Gael and the Academy Theatre. (Noelle says her parents first met when her dad took a dance class for a role and after the lesson, he hit on the teacher.)
Noelle studied dance with her mom, then at Decatur School of Ballet and then at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education, eventually entering the pre-pro division in which the most serious and talented students take class with the company and are cast in corps roles in performances.
While in high school, she performed in Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Great Gatsby and big. “Ballet is everything,” she says of the discipline. “I consider myself a contemporary dancer now, but taking ballet class is like taking your vitamins. One a day.”
Noelle and her father notably appeared onstage together again in the Alliance’s 2007 children’s production Degas’ Little Dancer in which a ballerina travels back in time to visit the painter Edgar Degas: she was the dancer, he was Degas. The dance in the show was created by none other than choreographer Lauri Stallings, who put movement with almost every line, including some moves for Degas himself. “He just loved it,” says Noelle. “He killed it. I loved that show.”
At that time, Stallings was in the midst of her three-year choreography residency with the Atlanta Ballet, after which she founded Atlanta dance company gloATL (now glo). Noelle became a full company member of glo in 2013, taking central roles in such works as Liquid Culture and cloth, but she’s recently moved on from the company to explore other opportunities.
Noelle appeared in choreographer Erik Thurmond’s Ripple as part of the Tanz Farm performance series last month at the Rhodes Theatre, and she slipped back into pointe shoes at Synchronicity Theatre last week for performances with the new Atlanta company Proia Dance Project, founded by Alexandre Proia, former artistic director of the Georgia Ballet.
As for what’s beyond that, Noelle says she’s especially interested in joining a repertory dance company full time, with the understanding that a dancer’s life is often very nomadic. “I am less place-focused and more opportunity-focused,” she says.
For the time being, though, Atlanta is home, and she says she’s able to piece together a sustainable living through her work. “I’m not rolling in the Benjamins, but I’m learning how to get by,” she says. “If you can find the gigs, you can make it work. I’m learning how to do that. It’s a process.”
And learning to stick to that process and enjoy it is something she says she’s learned from watching her parents all these years. “They’re happy,” she says. “That’s one thing I can say about my parents that I admire so much. They come home from work with smiles on their faces.”