Nothing tests the spirit of the holiday season more than The Nutcracker. Every Winter I think to myself, this is truly the last time I’ll be able to endure this. One more performance and surely my bones will snap during the snow scene. But four years later – and who knows how many Nutcrackers in – I’ve successfully completed my fifth Nutcracker season with Ballet West.
The Nutcracker has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t always miserable and painful, in fact, at one point it was the highlight of my December. My first experience at the Bronx Dance Theatre, maybe at six or seven years old, I was “a brat” and a mouse. I remember the thrill and joy of wreaking havoc on the stage, terrorizing the Clara and her Nutcracker doll, and then swishing my hips back and forth for each stroke of the clock in my velvet grey unitard and mouse head. My older sister was a toy soldier and snowflake and I couldn’t have been more proudof her. My favorite roles then, and possibly still to this day, were the seductive Arabian princess and the hilarious Mother Ginger, with her magical skirt filled with tiny ballerinas. A few years later, my first year at the School of American Ballet, I was cast as the sentry soldier and an angel. I was the first soldier onstage with a special colored feather who came out and shot the mouse. I stuffed the cannon and tossed the fake Styrofoam cheese with as much integrity and honor as an 11-year-old could muster. When I stood next to the growing tree for the first time on the State Theatre stage (I refuse to call it The Koch), it took everything in my power to not break character and stare with amazement at the actual magic that was happening right next to me. If I had fallen into the pit that night, blinded by the lights and sparkle of the New York City Ballet, I would’ve died the happiest child on earth. I felt important and so grateful to be part of something so special.
Now almost two decades later, the thrill of hearing Sugarplum music play in Forever21 has diminished drastically. At Ballet West we typically perform anywhere from 30-40 Nutcrackers a season. There are 8 different casts and 3 different performance locations this year, usually 7 or 8 different parts for the women and no less than 2 different roles performed on any given day. The work is tedious; it hurts; it keeps you away from home on the holidays. Christmas every day smay seem like a dream, but when you’re forced to be in the Party Scene 20 times, it doesn’t sound like such a good time anymore.
Something was different this year; I had a whole cast off (so 2 out of 40 shows). I was ecstatic. So deliriously happy, that instead of staying home and being as far away from the Nutcracker as I could get, I went to sit in the audience and cheer on my peers. Embarrassingly, excitedly, as soon as the curtain went up, I was transported into the spirit of my 11-year-old self and truly mesmerized. The Nutcracker is magical. The music, the costumes, the over-the-top holiday cheer of party scene was so nostalgic and beautiful that I was almost moved to tears. All it took was a little perspective, and a center mezzanine seat. The remaining 10 shows I performed after seeing the Nutcracker live again took on a new meaning. I imagined the kids, their parents, even the grandparents, sitting in the balcony awestruck and beaming, and I wanted to give them the best performance I could muster. And even though it didn’t hurt any less – and I still couldn’t make it home in time for Christmas – each night I was grateful to be part of the magic…..my pointe exactly.