Is Nutcracker Making You Nuts? Four Veterans Share Their Advice for Getting Through

Atlanta Ballet's Alessa Rogers as Marya. Charlie McCullers, Courtesy AB.

As Christmas approaches, many of you are in your Nutcracker home stretch—and counting down the days. Need an extra shot of inspiration? Here, four Nutcracker veterans share their advice for staying healthy and motivated.


Jessika Anspach: Corps de ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Anspach as the Peacock in PNB's production

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Number of Nutcrackers: 35–45

Roles: 9, ranging from party scene parent to the Peacock in Act II

Go for it: During Nutcracker you have the pressure of performance but the benefit of repetition, which in a way acts as a safety net—you can take risks without worrying that it's your "one shot." It's allowed me to work on refining my technique while performing: tightening my soutenus, holding my turnout or pointing my toes even when I can't feel them.

Get your zzz's: Sleep is my best friend. It gives my body time to recoup and heal itself from the pounding it sometimes receives. I also address any aches or pains as soon as I feel them, be that through a visit to our physical therapist or taking an ice bath before I go to bed, so they don't become a bigger problem later on.

Leticia Oliveira: Principal, Texas Ballet Theater

Oliveira as the Sugarplum Fairy

Ellen Appel, Courtesy TBT

Number of Nutcrackers: 17 (plus one Nutty Nutcracker)

Roles: Sugarplum Fairy, Snow Queen, Arabian

Stay hydrated: I drink a lot of water, and I also drink a lot of Emergen-C to replace electrolytes, and for energy before a show. And I love Smartwater and coconut water when I'm feeling run-down.

Be an inspiration: Some people don't like Nutcracker, but I actually look forward to it. I love meeting the kids after the show and seeing what parts they enjoyed the most. Last year, I heard a child say, "Wow!" during my Sugarplum variation. My whole show afterwards was great.

Alessa Rogers: Company dancer, Atlanta Ballet

Rogers dancing as Marya

Charlie McCullers, Courtesy AB

Number of Nutcrackers: 17

Roles: Marya, Snow Queen, Arabian, Meissen Doll, Snowflake, Rose

Go green: I'm big on green smoothies and vegetables, and during the run I might up my intake of turmeric and pineapple juice, which are both good for reducing inflammation. On my days off, I go to yoga classes to stretch tight muscles and give myself a mental break.

Make it fresh: It's important not to form the same habits, in terms of how I respond to a character. If I do, I run the risk of becoming rigid and unbelievable. Allowing myself to play with the nuances makes the ballet feel new every day.

Laura Bowman: Corps de ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet

Bowman (right) in the "Snow" scene

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB

Number of Nutcrackers: 27

Roles: Snowflake, Grandparent, Harelquin, Demi-Soloist in "Flowers," Hot Chocolate, Lead Marzipan Shepherdess

Keep moving: Warm up properly before each show. Sometimes you must warm up several times within a show—that's partly why Nutcracker is so tiring. If you're performing one section in Act I (such as "Snow") and one section in Act II (like "Waltz of the Flowers"), you may have over 30 minutes of downtime where your body gets a little tight and cold. That's when injuries tend to happen.

Push yourself: Each time I step out onstage, I try to perform better than the time before. Some days it's harder to motivate myself than others. What gets me through is knowing that every audience member—from the toddlers to the seasoned ballet veterans—deserve to be entertained and experience the magic of Nutcracker.

Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Getty Images

I'm a college freshman, and my dance program isn't challenging enough. We only have ballet three times a week and a few hours of modern, and my classmates aren't as dedicated as I am. There's a small dance company nearby, where I was hoping to take extra classes, but I don't have a car. I want to transfer, but I feel like I won't be in good enough shape for auditions. —Tara

Keep reading... Show less