Jacqueline Callahan (center) as Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine's Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet

Imagining a Year Without "Nutcracker": For Many Dancers, It Will Be Their First Since Childhood

One afternoon in mid-June, Pennsylvania Ballet's dancers, administrative staff, school faculty and orchestra members gathered via Zoom to learn the devastating news: We would not return to the stage in the year 2020. Some turned off their cameras to process. Others looked shocked, grappling to understand what this information meant and how we were going to survive. In addition to canceling various world premieres and full-length classical ballets, we were also calling off the beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker. Three months prior to this announcement, when the pandemic caused the theaters to go dark, I had not anticipated the artistic loss and ongoing tragedy this global health crisis would have on performing arts. As I began to settle into a new normal, I grasped that for the very first time in my life I would be without a Nutcracker.


Whitney Huell, wearing a pink tutu and tiara, holds her male partner's right hand, while they both gesture out with their outside arms.

Whitney Huell as the Sugarplum Fairy in Kansas City Ballet's Nutcracker

Elizabeth Stehling, Courtesy Kansas City Ballet

And not just any production—born and raised in the Philadelphia area, I've been a part of Pennsylvania Ballet's Nutcracker from a very young age. I worked my way through all the childhood roles, until I moved away from home to train at the School of American Ballet. I returned every Christmas to see the show, to sit in the beautiful Academy of Music and relive the magic of tradition. When I joined Pennsylvania Ballet as a professional in 2014, I picked up where I had left off. I debuted my very first soloist role in 2017 as Lead Marzipan and have danced it every year since. To this day, the attack, energy and precision of this role make it my absolute favorite to dance—and not just in Nutcracker!

I am not the only dancer attempting to define my holiday season without Nutcracker this year. Atlanta Ballet artist Jacob Bush shared that his company found out about its production's cancellation over a Zoom meeting, before a press release was shared with the public. He recalled that artistic staff admitted they had held off making a decision for as long as possible. While the news wasn't surprising, it catapulted the dancers into a new harsh reality. "The theater is my home away from home during the holidays," says Bush. "It has been Christmas for me the past 25 years." He added that the ballet is not only tradition, but an opportunity to take on new roles and perform night after night. "You take Nutcracker for granted when you've done it for so long, but performing 30 or more shows in one month is what I will miss the most," he says.

Jacob Bush, in a blue jacket and red hat, stands next to Jackie Nash, who wears a black and blue tutu, both in tendu back. To their left is a nest full of large broken eggs, along with six child dancers dressed as yellow chicks.

Jacob Bush and Jackie Nash in the French variation from Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Kansas City Ballet company artist Whitney Huell remembers her shock when the dancers were informed of their canceled production via social media and an email to donors and staff. Nutcracker has been a part of her holiday season since she was 8 years old, and she's performed many of the ballet's leading roles at KCB. "I became the first Black female to ever perform Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy in Kansas City Ballet history," says Huell. "It was a big deal, not just for me, but for the city to embrace diversity and see a person of color take on leading roles." What makes Nutcracker so fulfilling for Huell is the chance to revisit and work on those roles each year. "I'll miss the performance opportunity the most."

Dressed in a pink tutu, Jacqueline Callahan leaps across a brightly lit stage, surrounded by children costumed as Nutcracker characters.

Callahan in George Balanchine's Nutcracker at Pennsylvania Ballet

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet

To fill the void during the holiday season, companies nationwide are taking their productions to the virtual stage. Atlanta Ballet recently announced its reimagined The Nutcracker 2020 Experience, including a drive-in viewing event at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, an on-demand access to a previously recorded performance, and a social media series called "30 Days of Nutcracker." Kansas City Ballet is revamping its 53rd annual Nutcracker Ball to include a virtual holiday program. Boston Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet have also announced online or televised versions. Other companies, including Pennsylvania Ballet, have yet to announce their virtual holiday plans, but I remain hopeful. In the meantime, my colleagues and I will continue training and working in pods until we can all be reunited again onstage in 2021.

A ballerina in a white tutu poses in arabesque, partnered by a male dancer dressed in a white jacket and crown. To their left, a group of six dancers dressed as white reindeer pull a sleigh towards a wintery backdrop; a male dancer dressed as a Nutcracker prince stands on the sleigh and a young female dancer sits inside it.

Whitney Huell (far right, in arabesque) as the Snow Queen in Kansas City Ballet's Nutcracker

Brett Pruitt, Courtesy Kansas City Ballet

Embracing a year without Nutcracker will no doubt leave a hole in the hearts of dancers across the country, but there is a silver lining. "Nutcracker has been such a staple in our city," says Bush. "Hopefully the lack of performances will help motivate audiences to come to our other shows and get art back into the community." Huell adds, "I am confident that dance will return, and return stronger than before because we have been without it for so long. People need it. They are realizing they are not whole without it."

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Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Quinn Wharton

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Angelica Generosa Shares Her Classic, Comfy Style In and Out of the Studio

"I love the feeling and look of effortless fashion," says Angelica Generosa. Preferring a classic style, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist keeps her wardrobe stocked with blazers. But they serve a practical purpose, too. "It tends to get chilly in Seattle, so it's the perfect accessory for layering," Generosa explains.

She's also quite fond of designer handbags. "They're my go-to accessory, and they're also my weakness when shopping," she says, naming Chloé, Chanel and Dior as some of her favorite brands. "I really appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce one—they're so beautiful and each has its own story, in a way."

In the studio, Generosa prioritizes comfort, and she'll change up her look depending on the repertoire (leotards and tutus for classical works, breathable shirts with workout pants for contemporary). But she always arrives to work in style. "I really love putting together outfits for even just going to the studio," she says. "It's another way of expressing my mood and what kind of vibe I'm going for that day."

The Details: Street

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue blazer, white blouse and gray jeans, is photographed from underneath as she walks and looks to the right.

Quinn Wharton

BCBG blazer: "It has some shoulder pads and a really cool pattern," says Generosa. "It reminds me of my mom and '80s fashion."

Zara blouse: She incorporate neutrals, like this white satin button-up, to balance bright pops of colors.

Angelica Generosa looks off to her right in front of a glass-windowed building. She wears a blue blazer, white blouse, gray jeans and carries a small green handbag.

Quinn Wharton

Madewell jeans: Comfort is a major factor for Generosa, who gets her fashion inspiration from her mom, friends and people she comes across day to day.

Chloé bag: "I tend to have smaller purses because I'm quite small. Bigger bags overwhelm me sometimes—unless it's my dance bag, of course!"

The Details: Studio

Angleica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool leggings and pink pointe shoes, balances in a lunge on pointe with her left leg in front, facing a wall of windows.

Quinn Wharton

Label Dancewear leotard: "This was designed by my good friend Elizabeth Murphy, a principal dancer here at PNB. Her leotards always fit me really well."

Mirella leggings: "I get cold easily," says Generosa, who wears leggings and vests to stay warm throughout the day.

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool tights and pink pointe shoes, jumps and crosses her right foot over her left shin while lifting her arms up to the right.

Quinn Wharton

Freed of London pointe shoes: "When sewing them, I crisscross my elastics and use an elasticized ribbon from Body Wrappers," which helps alleviate Achilles tendon issues, she says. She then trims the satin off of the tip of the shoe. "Then I bend the shank a bit to loosen it up and cut a bit off where my arch is."

Getty Images

This New "Nutcracker" Competition Wants Your Dance Studio to be Part of a Virtual Collaboration

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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