When I was seven years old, I had my first stage debut – I performed in a small studio’s The Nutcracker in Baltimore. I didn’t just carry a box across the stage nor do cute little prances. I was a small snowflake and got to dance throughout fifty percent of the snow scene. Not too bad, little me.
My Nutcracker debut as a small snowflake, circa 1999.
At the time, I didn’t quite understand the story, what was going on, or what it meant to be a small snowflake. All I really knew was that I was having a lot of fun and I loved the stage. And thus began my Nutcracker career.
Two years later I had moved to Boston and was attending classes at the Boston Ballet School. Nutcracker auditions rolled around, and I decided to try out. I don’t think I was nervous, and I didn’t really have any expectations. I wasn’t sure how this audition process would go either. However, I got cast as a Lamb, and I was beyond excited! Not to sound too pretentious as my nine year old self, but most of my friends got roles as dolls, so all they got to do was run on stage and get carried off. I, on the other hand, had actual choreography and ballet steps to perform during the Marzipan dance.
The Mouse King and Nutcracker fighting in the battle scene in an older version of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker.
That year I truly realized how much I LOVED The Nutcracker! Dancing with Boston Ballet was even more fun than dancing at my old studio. After all, I was performing with a professional company and on a GIANT stage – back then, Boston Ballet was lucky enough to have their performances at the Wang Theater.
Since these experiences, I’ve tried to incorporate The Nutcracker into each year’s holiday season. I danced in Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker for five more years. I got to be a Party Boy – that was pretty hilarious since I wore a wig; a Party Girl – I’d never felt prettier with my curls and the looks of jealousy the younger girls gave me who were not Party Girls; and I was Tea in the Chinese dance for three consecutive years – I could definitely be in charge of teaching that dance to today’s young Tea girls. My last year was the most memorable for me because it was also my little sister’s first year in The Nutcracker.
My first time performing as Tea in 2005.
I always looked forward to these performances! I loved seeing the beautiful costumes, the company dancers who were my idols, and the roles that I had hoped to have in the future (in case you’re wondering, I successfully had three out of seven roles that I planned for myself… another role came as a delightful surprise). The party scene got me pumped, the mice scared me a bit, and the pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier also made me emotional.
As corny as this sounds, but being a part of The Nutcracker was truly magical. True, there were imperfections with the system and sacrifices (for instance, I missed sleepovers at the Museum of Science because I had rehearsal early the next day and the casting was usually unfair), but the happiness and fun completely outweighed those negatives! The Nutcracker inspired me, so I choreographed my own mini version of the ballet. I made my friends practice every single recess until Christmas, and we performed it for our parents on Christmas Day. Given our ages, I think we did a fantastic job!
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Sadly, ever since I stopped being a Boston Ballet student, I haven’t been part of The Nutcracker. However, that does not deter me from still making The Nutcracker part of my holiday tradition! How do I do that? It’s actually quite simple:
1. I listen to The Nutcracker suite alongside my Christmas music. I remember a lot of dancers complaining about it and saying how they couldn’t listen to it anymore by the end of December, but I never understood that. It’s perfect! Tchaikovsky is a genius.
Tchaikovsky – the composer of The Nutcracker.
2. I have a growing collection of Nutcracker dolls. I received my first Nutcracker as a present after my snowflake debut from a special friend. That Nutcracker is blue and has a red hat and probably has one of the happiest expressions of any Nutcracker I’ve seen. He may be a bit old now and damaged in certain areas, since I would dance with him when pretending to be Clara, but he’s my first! I’ve since gotten Nutcrackers ranging from the five inches to three feet in height. Most are your standard Nutcracker dolls, but I have some interesting ones too! That includes an archer Nutcracker, Nutcrackers which look like various characters, like Clara, Drosselmeyer, and the Mouse King from the ballet, Nutcrackers which look like Father Frost (aka Russian Santa), and even a Pinocchio Nutcracker! Nutcrackers definitely make the best Christmas decorations.
A perfect example of a Nutcracker collection.
3. I watch The Nutcracker. I try to make it to Boston Ballet’s performance most years. Even though I remember a good chunk of the choreography and know what it’s supposed to look like, it’s still a new experience each time I watch it. Boston Ballet changed its Nutcracker costumes and sets last year, so that is also interesting to observe and compare to the older Nutcrackers. If, for whatever reason, I can’t make it to a Nutcracker performance, I find other companies’ versions on YouTube, and watch those!
One of Boston Ballet’s best Nutcracker parts – the dancing bear! This is the bear from my years in the production.
4. My little sister performed in The Nutcracker for a few years without me, so watching her was a delight as well! (Again, in case you’re wondering, she had some of the roles that I was never able to get, so that made me feel better!)
My sister as a Polichinelle, the role I always wanted but never got, in 2008.
5. I gather my friends and we watch our version of The Nutcracker that I choreographed. It’s so funny now, and it brings us closer together.
Mickey and Minnie as the Nutcracker and Clara, respectively.
I’m sure my love for The Nutcracker is not too unique, and there are plenty of others who feel the same way. To those people – I solute you! For others, I strongly encourage you to try and immerse yourself in The Nutcracker culture. I guarantee that you will love it! And if you don’t, you at least tried something new, so no harm in that!
Happy Holidays, and make sure to check if there are adult sized mice or a giant Nutcracker battling in your living room right now!