Eva Burton (center) in Oregon Ballet Theatre's George Balanchine's The Nutracker. James McGrew, Courtesy OBT.

Nutcracker Survival Tips: 6 Pros on Making It Through the Holiday Marathon

Six pros reveal their most creative tricks for making it through everyone's favorite holiday marathon.



Alana Griffith: Artist, Milwaukee Ballet

Griffith in rehearsal for Milwaukee Ballet's "Waltz of the Flowers."

Timothy O'Donnell, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet

Favorite role: Clara

"Clara was my first soloist role and the first role I did where my character danced through the entire ballet. I liked playing with different ways of making her sweet and lovable or bratty and funny. Switching from Clara to the corps to divertissements makes the rehearsal process exciting and challenging."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 17–18

Pre-Warm-Up: "In the morning I take a hot bath for 5–7 minutes as a way to pre-warm my muscles before class."

Multitasking Tape: "If I have a quick change into pointe shoes, I rip a piece of soft, white tape off my toes and use it to hold my ribbons."

Conjuring Calm: "I take a homeopathic supplement called Quietude, which helps me wind down after a show."

Miranda Silveira: Corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet

Silveira in rehearsal with SFB

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

Favorite role: Spanish

"It's a very energetic and dynamic part, and there's a lot of character dancing."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: approximately 33

Keep Toasty: "When I'm doing Maid or Party Parent in the Party Scene, I wear legwarmers under the long dress so I'm ready for Snow."

Warm Toes: "I stick my pointe shoes under the heater at the theater to warm them up."

Listen Closely: "Take advantage of the differences between each conductor by really listening to the changes in the music."

Eva Burton: Company artist, Oregon Ballet Theatre

Burton (center) in OBT's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

James McGrew, Courtesy OBT

Favorite role: Sugar Plum Fairy

"I love that in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy does her variation at the beginning of Act II surrounded by the angels. Sharing the stage with young students reminds me that every audience is full of children who are seeing ballet for the first time."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 15–19

Time Your Hydration: "I drink water well before the show so I can stay focused but not have to go to the bathroom once I'm in costume."

Pointe Shoe Prep: "I sew as many pointe shoes as possible before we even get to the theater."

Check Off Christmas Shopping: "I do all of my Christmas shopping before Nutcracker!"

Jennifer Grace: Demi-soloist, Tulsa Ballet

Grace in Tulsa Ballet's Snow scene

Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Favorite role: Maid of Honor, in "Waltz of the Flowers"

"In Marcello Angelini's Nutcracker, the Maid of Honor is partnered by four different cavaliers, and it flows together beautifully. I wouldn't say it's easy to dance, but it's very enjoyable."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 8

Soup-er Food: "Soup is my go-to meal. It keeps you hydrated and makes you feel full, but you can still move."

Fresh-Faced: "I take my makeup off immediately after the show, wash my face as soon as I get home, and I don't put any makeup on until I have to, the next night, so my skin has a chance to breathe."

Salt Solutions: "Epsom salt baths help my muscles to recover from that feeling of lactic acid crunchiness."

Tiffany Mosher: Second soloist, National Ballet of Canada

Mosher performs Spanish Chocolate at NBoC

Cylia von Tiedemann, Courtesy NBoC

Favorite role: Bee, in "Waltz of the Flowers"

"Although it's an extremely difficult and tiring role with a lot of jumping and quick movements, the fast-paced choreography makes it a joy."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: 24

Get Rest: "We bring a blow-up mattress into the change room, to lie down between shows."

Be a Team Player: "I always volunteer to do a new spot if someone gets sick or injured. Everyone will go to the wings to watch, and if you make eye contact onstage it's fun!"

Balance Is Key: "Doing the same roles all the time works the same muscles. For example, the Snowflake choreography has a lot of quick footwork and relevés, so it's taxing on our calves and ankles. To balance that I do lunges and squats with weights to engage my hamstrings, quads and glutes."

Joshua Grant: Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Grant as Mother Ginger in PNB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Favorite roles: Cavalier and Mother Ginger

"The Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier is the most rewarding role because of the beautiful music, and Mother Ginger is an all-out hoot to perform."

Number of Nutcrackers per season: approximately 35

Natural Skin Care: "Coconut oil is an all-natural way to moisturize your skin. It doesn't have to be refrigerated, so you can keep it in your makeup case."

Advance Check-In: "I always check in with my partner before a pas de deux. Maybe my shoulder hurts that day or her shoes are more dead than usual."

Hit Refresh: "It helps to step out of the theater, even if it's just for lunch or coffee, especially on double show days."

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.

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American Ballet Theatre corps member Rachel Richardson. NYC Dance Project, Courtesy Rachel Richardson

ABT’s Rachel Richardson on Performing With Her Hometown Company, Eugene Ballet

When I signed my first professional contract with Eugene Ballet, one of the last things I anticipated was the opportunity to dance beside a member of American Ballet Theatre. Flash forward to the start of our spring season this year, and suddenly I'm chatting in the hallway and rehearsing the Cinderella fairy variations next to luminous ABT corps member Rachel Richardson. When ABT announced it was canceling live performances for the 2020–21 season, Richardson traveled back home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her family—and this spring joined the company as a guest artist.

Growing up, Richardson trained locally in Eugene before moving to The Rock School for Dance Education's year-round program in Philadelphia. After securing a spot in the ABT Studio Company in 2013, she was promoted to corps de ballet in 2015. This unconventional year marks her sixth season with the main company.

After having the privilege of dancing with her this spring, I sat down with Richardson to discuss her recent guesting experience, how the pandemic has helped her grow and her advice for young dancers.

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