You Know It’s Nutcracker Season When…

robbie downey dancer ballet
Robbie Downey as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Phoenix Ballet’s The Nutcracker

It is that time of the year again…. Nutcracker. Support your local ballet school or company by attending this wonderful holiday tradition. We are days away to close our Nutcracker Kickstarter campaign, and unforutnately, it doesn’t look like it will come to fruition. But, I will relaunch the campaign in the New Year, focusing on next year.

(Click Here to help our kickstarter campaign)

This season I was lucky enough to coach for beautiful Sugar Plums for Phoenix Ballet’s Nutcracker. They included social media star Robbie Downey, YAGP winner Mya Kresniak, YAGP winner Madison Penney, and the elegant Kenzie Thomas. All four young women are so different and took on the role so differently. It reminded me about how wonderful an oppertunitiy to dance a principal role is. These four girls are about to make their debut in Arizona and headline a show.

Now, I am on the opposite side of the country coaching talented young women for the YAGP. These roles are so difficult but it is so amazing to see the attack and dedication these young women have. While Baltimore is cold, the experience here has been amazing.

Finally, don’t forget Issue 8 is out!

(Repost)

Between the holiday parties  and preparing for Black Friday sales, the ballet world is faced with our dreaded, but magical annual tradition of The Nutcracker. Every year around this time, whether it be at Starbucks, the bank or even at some retail store, I am standing around minding my own business… and then it comes on the speakers. That dreadful tune that ushers in the Holiday Season.

While the majority of the world associates it with that one song from that one commercial, ballet dancers around the world hear it and immediately identify the composer, the act, the choreography and the costumes. Yes, it is the Nutcracker.

Recently, I was standing in line with my pas de deux partner, and the music for Snow Pas came on. While it is one of the most beautiful pieces composes for the Nutcracker, we immediately looked at each other with fear in our eyes. Yes, fear. We had just started rehearsals with new choreography knowing that the show goes up in three weeks. We both haven’t been on stage for more than four years, and we immediately decided to order skinny lattes knowing we are about to be in white tights. So, in the tradition of Nutcracker, and in a Ballet Education’s five things…

You Know It’s Nutcracker When…
1. You hear Nutcracker music outside of ballet and want to kill yourself.
2. 1/3 of your company is injured, or battling tendonitis, but still powering through ridiculously long rehearsals that you don’t want to be in.
3. You know every part of Nutcracker, but still are forced to rehearse, clean and tech it all. In fact, you have probably danced every part of Nutcracker at some point of your life and could probably stage it all, with your eyes closed.
4. This time of the year everyone is all about the holiday cheer and festivities, but you are the most tired you have ever been. You want to crawl into a ball and die. You still have to rehearse everything else outside of Nutcracker for the upcoming season’s bills, so your mind is on overload. It is just yucky.
5. You are a boy, and its Nut season and all you want to do is be Kyra Nichols as Dewdrop. Yes, you want to be Balanchine’s infamous Dewdrop and dance the most beautiful entrances, have the most swayed back ever, and dance to the loveliest of music.

Here are some of last year’s Nutcracker Posts:
THE BEAST THAT IS THE NUTCRACKER

5 AWFUL REALITIES OF NUTCRACKER

THE NUTTINESS OF NUTCRACKER

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I danced dew drop and survived….

i danced drew drop and survived

1 design for one of the 12 new NUTCRACKER  shirts… The entire Nutcracker Shirt collection is sketched, designed, made and all that jazz by your truly. The entire Nutcracker Shirt Collection will be available November 15.

Yup… sooooo …

we are gearing up for Nutcracker and students are gearing up for summer program auditions… with that being said:

After teaching, coaching and running a company… One of the biggest things that interferes with an education in ballet is the lack of financial resources for students. This isn’t like college, so there is no FASFA to fill out.  After the success of sending one of my students to a summer program off of fundraising, I decided that I would use my real job to help create a scholarship fund.  When you shop a ballet education, 30% of the sale will go into a scholarship fund. The big goal is provide scholarship money to students for summer programs, pointe shoes etc; choreographers, and professional dancers pursuing other endeavors to further ballet.  Right now, I would just like to start raising money, so that when your student gets an acceptance letter, but no financial aid, aBalletEducation can help out. To shop and support A Ballet Education’s Scholarship Fund click here.

To apply for a scholarship please see our scholarship link in the menu above. and Merde to your nutcracker performances and summer auditions…

Sugar Plums Fairies: The Women of NYCB

With Nutcracker in a frenzy and taking up my Facebook feed, I am always surprised by the wondrous NYCB, headed by Peter Martins. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with everything Artistic Directors do, but Peter, if I can call him that, or Petie would be better, does a pretty good job at making dancers mature. While other people are against putting such young dancers on the stage, NYCB has a record of it. And because of that, we are able to watch dances mature and watch the entire span of a career. As we recently said goodbye to Wendy Whelan, we are left with a roster of principal women who are beyond stunning. So, as they are dying in a million shows of Nutcracker here is my ode to the current women of NYCB, and then some. (All of them in the same role…)

Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar
Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar

While Ashley Bouder hails as a CPYB alumna and has had praise for a bazillion different things, I think the thing I admire most, is she doesn’t fit the typical NYCB body type. In fact, if you look at the principal women of NYCB, they couldn’t be more different. But Ashley Bouder is like an American muscle car. Shiny, fast, flashy, and sleek. While she is short, and muscular and has usually been cast in power house roles, as she has matured she has developed into this soft leaf floating in the wind… Her in Emeralds was like … well, amazeballs.

tn-1000_06_nutcracker_astafford_c23066-11

Then there is another CPYB alumna, Abi Stafford, who is like the epitome of technical perfection. With her extended lines, her perfect positions, I think she is like the textbook for turnout and lines.

Tiler Peck
Tiler Peck

Tiler Peck, has become like America’s Ballerina. She is jazzy, fun, free spirited, but most of all relentless when tackling a role. While she sometimes irritates me with her facial expressions, she is the most fun to watch of the women of NYCB. She brings this light hearted energy that is quite charming. And I think as her career has progressed, she is the most changed dancer. From when she started, at SAB and we all got the welcome to SAB dvd with her on it… I mean come on… what a change!

Teresa Reichlen
Teresa Reichlen

Teresa Reichlen, is long, and leggy. Compared to Maria Kowroski, she uniquely stands out on her own. Watching her on stage is timeless. I feel like when people refer to our generation of American Ballet dancers she will be one to remember. Though it is sad because I think Kaitlyn Gilliland could have been a lot like her at NYCB.

Sara Mearns
Sara Mearns

Sara Mearns is a beast. I’m like is there anything she can’t do? As she has changed over the past three years, I wonder if her dancing will evolve, or plateau. It is a scary thing watching careers like hers… They boom so fast, and then kind of plateau. I mean I think Ashley Bouder went through the same thing, and then reinvented her dancing. Since her injury, she is more cautious on stage, and definitely more careful, versus when we first saw her premier as this fearless beast.

Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette
Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette

Sterling Hyltin has had to grow on me… At first, I wasn’t a really big fan. And then I saw her in Romeo and Juliet, and if you took away the awful costuming, you realized that she is a superb actress, which sometimes Balanchine ballerinas lack. Then I saw her as Sugar Plum in middle of no where Michigan while visiting a friend and that was pretty much off the chain. She is charming and dazzling, and I really like the way she uses her knees. Not just her plie, but the way she uses her knees to punctuate extensions is really nice.

Rebecca Krohn
Rebecca Krohn

Krohn, is basically the ballet dancer fashion loves. She is everything a model is, uniquely beautiful, and everything a ballerina is: legs, feet, musicality. I have only seen her dance once in person and she wasn’t a principal… so I don’t have that much to say.

Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz
Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz

Megan Fairchild is like this ball of yarn that is kind of wound a little tight, but once she lets go and unravels it is like she becomes someone completely different. While a lot of the time I am not her biggest fan, she is definitely gorgeous on stage. Vulnerability is a good thing for primas an I think she is more of a, I have to take control kind of a dancer.

tumblr craze.
tumblr craze.

Jennie Somogyi is the darker side of ballet. There is something super mysterious about her dancing, fluid and deep. I do think as beautiful as she is a ballet dancer, contemporary definitely suits her better.

Ana Sophia Scheller and Tyler Angle
Ana Sophia Scheller and Tyler Angle

The girl can turn, the girl can balance, the girl has everything. I think though it is time for her to move into a classical company because she was kind of born to do full length ballets, like she is amazing in Kitri and in Esmerelda.

Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard
Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard

And then there was Maria Kowroski. As the longest leading lady at NYCB, she is everything. The feet, the flexibility, the musicality, the legs, the flexibility, the face, the dancing, the flexibility, the back, the knees that bend and are soft, those long fingers, the flexibility… haha, yes, I am obsessed with her flexibility, and growing up she was one of the women of NYCB I looked up to. Now, most have retired, and most of the principals at NYCB are my age. She will forever live on as Barbie, and she will be immortalized for her dark angel in Serenade, and because of Chaccone she will always be this little slice of heaven that was given to us.

Now… beware ladies as a new crop of women in the ranks of soloist are bound to become principals very soon: Lauren Lovette, Savannah, Lowery, Lauren King, and  Ashley Laracey are all probably bound for stardom, but I do think CPYB alumna Alexa Maxwell is going to be one as well.

Lexi at CPYB
Lexi at CPYB
And now.
And now.

Awful Realities of the Nutcracker

Sugar Plums: 5 Awful Realities of the Nutcracker

(The list of 5 Reasons why the Nutcracker won’t ever go away can be found by clicking here.)

Sugared plums are probably one of the nastiest tasting confections known to mankind, but the reality is they are beautiful. They possess a kind of quality fit for a ballet. And just like the ballet, Nutcracker is probably one of the nastiest, politically incorrect ballets. But, we still take our kids year after year anyways… I don’t know if Balanchine purposefully tried to avoid the racism by renaming the variations, but somehow racism it still made made its way into the choreography of the ballet. As a strong believer that dance/ballet is a reflection of humanity, it scares me that we have not evolved passed racial stereotypes. So, in honor of all of the Nutcracker stuff that is going around… 5 Awful Realities of the Nutcracker.

  1. Behold the glory of second act… Or the racism that is the second act. As progressive as dancers are, we still allow racist movements within the ballets. Chinese is ridiculous, and Arabian is hyper sexualized when in modern day reality, women are oppressed. Does anyone even know why Spanish is called hot chocolate? Hot chocolate was “invented” by the Aztecs and Mayans. Yup, there is a lot of racism. Not to mention the male glory of Russian, and the exuding of machismo testosterone.
  2. The entirety of Nutcracker is basically based on a psychological complex: projecting fantasies on to doll, Drosselmeier is just creepy in general and her parents don’t play a role in her life.
  3. Am I the only one who is concerned that flowers is not a confection? In the second act, a lot of versions have tried avoiding the race card by renaming the variations after confections, except waltz…
  4. Nutcracker really does not make sense. Yeah, I said it. The two act ballet really could be summed up into one act, but the fantasy of act 2 gets the best of us. Sometimes I feel like we should actually just cut the entire first act except snow, and turn act 1 into a shorter abridged prologue… Dads would be happier if act 1 was shorter.
  5. Finally, it always astounds me that the casting of Nutcracker. Nutcracker has to be the most politically incorrect ballet when it comes to casting. I guess for all white companies, it really doesn’t matter, but for those who are asian will probably always get cast as chinese, and for those who are ethnic, spanish… It is sad. I remember one time we were doing Balanchine’s version of Nutcracker and one of my best friends and I were in the same cast… (he is black) and the two of us were pointed out that we dance spanish corps the best and I quote, “They aren’t even European. He is oriental.” As she pointed at me. That day was the day I decided that I truly would have to dance ten times harder to even be noticed for my dancing.

As Nutcracker rehearsals are around the corner, I wonder what other racist things will be said to impressionable children?

Stay tuned for the 5 best Nutcracker productions.

The Beast that is the Nutcracker…

In the repertory of classical ballets, there is one ballet that trumps them all. It isn’t number one because of the physical demands, and it is definitely not number one because of artistic merit. In fact, this ballet probably is the most unartistic for any artist. It is probably the most recognized of score of any ballet music, from variations, to even the prologue, everyone knows it. It is the beast: THE NUTCRACKER.

It is no secret that most ballet companies make money twice a year. The first is by offering summer programs from June-August. The second comes in December and seats are sold out for their annual productions of the Nutcracker. For the majority of companies, the Nutcracker runs seamless. Everyone already knows all the parts, they are just waiting for the casting. Lighting, and costuming is already done for the most part, and just rely on tweaking things here and there. For marketing and PR, it is the best time to host fundraisers since everyone is in that holiday spirit of donating money. And for the audiences, it is that timeless, almost boring tradition, that doesn’t go away.

chapman-nut
PNB’s infamous Peacock. I probably prefer this variation more than the Balanchine one.

 

For most young aspiring dancers, the Nutcracker was the first ballet parents ever took us to.  Whether it was on VHS, directly talking about the Baryshnikov and Kirkland version, or PNB’s collaboration with Maurice Sendak. Or, the NYCB version featuring Macauly Culkin and Darci Kistler. So, for the majority of our young lives we prayed that one day we would get to dance in the Nutcracker. And then it happens… You get cast in your school’s version of the Nutcracker. You start as a child in Mother Ginger and party scene. You pray that you get picked to be Clara/Marie, and maybe you do. Then, you start to get smaller supporting roles, and finally you are in the corps of flowers and snow. By 13, you are dancing Marzipan/Mirlitons, and by 15 you are maybe Dew Drop. Next thing you know you are at a professional ballet school, and you never get to dance in Nutcracker again. Until, one day you are lucky enough to land yourself a company contract.

Five years later, after dancing professionally, you hear the music at department stores and cringe. Now you dread Nutcracker. It is the most boring of the ballets, and you dance it time and time again. If you are still a corps member you already know that you will be a party parent and in the same show you will have to dance in both snow and flowers. You hear the same corrections in flowers, “Bend more!” or “Watch your spacing.” In snow you already know that you need to move a little quicker than the music, and you watch the new apprentices and corps members struggle to keep up. Yup, it is that holiday tradition of being in a ballet company that brings dancers together. 

So, what is it about this ballet that is so charismatic and is performed every season?

hong kong ballet waltz of the flowers

5 reasons why the Nutcracker will never go away…

  1. Curse you Tchaikovsky! The score of Nutcracker is close to flawless in terms of musical genius. All of the music is relatable, catchy, and keeps the audience entertained. 
  2. It is magical, and is every little girl’s dream. Because it is the first ballet we ever see, it becomes engrained in us. It sparks the hope of millions of little girls to become ballet dancers.
  3. It is short and sweet. The shortest of the classical ballets, where the story is compressed into the first act and the second act is purely about the dancing. It is probably the only ballet your dad can sit through. Most little girls can’t sit through all of Swan Lake, or even get through act I without having to use the bathroom, get bored, or fall asleep.
  4. The test of a dancer. Dancers I think are tested a lot in the Nutcracker. Because you have so many performances, there are a lot more casting opportunities. If in a run of a regular program there may be only two or three casts. During Nutcracker, there are at least five casts, if not more. This gives the Artistic Director a chance to play around with their dancers. For an artistic director who wants to see something more dark and mysterious from a dancer, he will cast her in Arabian/Coffee. If they want to test a dancer’s stamina they put her Dew Drop. And if they want to see maturity, and ability they cast in her Sugar Plum. 
  5. It makes money! If it wasn’t for the Nutcracker, dancers wouldn’t have jobs for an entire season. So, we suck it up so we can dance all year round.