The Nutcracker is a classic performance displayed every winter by multiple dance companies and schools. But what really goes on behind-the-scenes of the Land of Sweets?
For the third year, I have been given the opportunity to dance in a production of the Nutcracker. It is a magical experience, dabbled with amazing memories that will last for years to come. However, there are blood, sweat, and tears that go into making this production a success.
The first step is casting and auditions, which start around July or August. After Summer break, the roles of the production are organized, and the ballet masters and directors hold an audition. There are a massive amount of roles for all dancers.Auditions can be fun, but they can be stressful at the same time. Some dancers have preferred parts, but they might get a different part than what they hoped for. The auditions test your knowledge and ability of the steps for a chosen role. By late August, we were told what parts we had gotten. This year, I had been given the parts of Party Girl and Russian Dancer. This was my second time in a row playing Party Girl. After we were assigned roles, rehearsals started.
The party scene is the very first scene that occurs at the beginning of the ballet. It is long, and contains many intricate details and parts that have to be sorted out. Because I was a Party Girl, I had to start rehearsals very early. The party scene depicts a Christmas party that Clara and her brother Fritz are hosting with their parents. Their friends and family all come over to dance and exchange gifts. Suddenly, Clara’s mysterious grandfather appears and begins using magic to everyone’s awe. As a gift, he gives her a beautiful Nutcracker doll that she falls in love with. After the party, Clara falls asleep. In her dreams, she experiences a battle between her beloved Nutcracker, and the King of Mice. After the Nutcracker wins the battle, he transforms into the nephew of Clara’s godfather, and they go on a magical journey to the Land of Snow and the land of Sweets in her dreams.
Just the acting part of this Party scene alone takes months of perfecting. Then the dances are refined. In my school’s production of the Nutcracker, we have decided to add lines and narration to what would be a completely word-less ballet. So instead of a completely classical ballet with only music and dancing, we’ve added narration to the first act of the play. This also makes for more rehearsal time as the actors need time to memorize their lines. About a month into rehearsals, costume fittings are made. The dresses for the Party Girls are made to look like a dress a girl would wear in the mid 1800s because that is when the play is set. Then the tough rehearsals begin. The ballet masters demand nothing short of perfection from their dancers, even if it means that they have to give them harsh feedback: They will tell you if the dance looks horrible. This might cause tension between the dancers, but ultimately, the ballet is perfected. By November, we start to do big cast Tech Rehearsals. This allows the ballet masters to get a look at what the production would look like in full. It also gives the costumers a chance to see the costumes on the dancers. Then the sound and lights team can get a chance to see if the music and lights work smoothly.
Opening Night: an evening of warmup classes, last-minute costume fittings and pre-show jitters. But when that curtain goes up and the music starts, it’s like you’re lost in another world. You are no longer in a theater acting as a dancer. You are Clara’s friend who just trudged through a winter snowstorm in Germany to be at this party. You are a Russian dancer gracing the Sugar Plum Fairy’s palace to dance for her guests. All of a sudden you are in this fairytale world, and to be honest, there is nothing on this earth like the adrenaline rush you get as the Nutcracker Overture starts. You say good-luck, Merde, and break a leg, and then you run into the stage to be greeted by your fellow dancers and praises by the ever-captivated audience.