San Francisco Ballet principal Joseph Walsh at age 3 as the tiny green elf in his local Nutcracker. Courtesy Walsh.
Oh, Nutcracker... It's the ballet experience that unites us all, from young student to seasoned pro. Whether you made your entrance in a mouse costume or under Mother Ginger's skirt, do you remember the choreography and costume of your very first role?
Today, six professionals share their favorite childhood Nutcracker photos and memories.
A dancer's dressing room is often her "home away from home." In our August/September issue, we went backstage with three ballerinas, including Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio. Below, she shows us how she personalizes her space and walks us through her pre-performance routine.
Cirio snaps a selfie at her dressing room spot.
The setup: Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio shares her dressing room with fellow dancers Misa Kuranaga and Kathleen Breen Combes. "We all personalize our spaces," she says. "It's about making it comfortable." Cirio keeps her spot as organized as possible. "But after a full-length, it's a disaster area! Makeup, hairpins, curls everywhere—it's a mess."
Caralin Curcio at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers. Photo Courtesy Kathleen Breen Combes.
While New York City Ballet was off last August, corps member Sasonah Huttenbach was hard at work at the Danish Ballet Masters program, a two-week Bournonville workshop in New York City led by former Royal Danish Ballet dancers Mogens Boesen and Linda Hindberg. While they have always offered a student intensive, last summer Boesen and Hindberg added a program for working dancers. “A lot of professionals just lean toward open classes or giving themselves class during layoffs, but sometimes you need the basics because you're rehearsing and performing so much," says Huttenbach, who attended the student intensive twice before joining NYCB. “It was great to spend time off perfecting my alignment and technique."
Wondering about how to spend your summer layoff weeks this year? While teaching or performance gigs are good ways to stay busy, off-time can also be perfect for brushing up your technique, exploring another style and networking with a broader range of dance professionals. From big cities to the beach, programs geared towards professionals can help reinvigorate your career and remind you that you can always go back to summer camp.
If you ever spot Kathleen Breen Combes when Boston Ballet is on tour, chances are she’s on a fashion mission with her shopping buddy, soloist John Lam. “We land. We figure out our theater time. We figure out our shopping time,” she says with a laugh. “We ask the locals what the best stores are—you want the back streets, not the main shopping area.” Though she loves boutiques, Combes isn’t afraid of a little DIY. She looks for homemade finds on Etsy and makes her own dancewear, like the navy blue leggings she wore during our shoot. “I harass the costume shop at Boston Ballet a lot with my sewing questions. After that, it’s trial and error.” The trend she’ll never stand for? “I guess some people can pull it off, but I hate leggings as pants.”
Blouse by Aqua: “My style is feminine and I wear a lot of drapey pieces. I got this on tour in Spain.” White cardigan: “This is from one of my favorite Boston stores, Pinkyotto. I love layering.” Blue pants by MANGO: “These are really fun, thin summer pants. I wear a lot of bright blue—the perfect pop of color.” Wedges by Italian Shoemakers: “This brand makes the comfiest shoes. Being a dancer, sometimes I go for that over everything else.”
Anthropologie sweater: “I start barre with more warm-ups on, but by the end, I’m down to something like this look. I’ve never been a person that can wear a bunch of junk and feel good.” Phobos Bodywear “Kathleen B.” skirt in military: “This is actually named after me. The owner made it for me for a gala costume. Everyone loved it, so she started selling them.” Pointe shoes: “I wear Freed of London, Anchor maker.”
"Our next generation is coming in very strong,” says Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, who recently promoted five company dancers to the rank of principal—Kathleen Breen Combes, Pavel Gurevich, Melissa Hough, Misa Kuranaga and James Whiteside. Significantly, four of the five members of the new crop of stars worked their way up from either Boston Ballet II or the company’s corps de ballet. (The promotions are a happy counterpoint to the company’s March 2008 layoffs, when nine dancers found out that their contracts would not be renewed.)
Nissinen says that the cultivation of in-house talent has been a goal of his since he joined BB in 2001. “Boston Ballet has a uniquely varied repertoire,” he says. “I’ve always supported dancers who make their way through our ranks, because they are immersed in this repertoire from the beginning. They become familiar with the company’s artistic diet, which is an essential part of the preparation for larger roles." Nissinen is glad to see his efforts come to fruition with the success of these new principals. "Right now," he says, "I'm a very proud parent."
Maker: “Anchor,” but “club” and “U” are her backups
Years wearing this shoe: 7
Break-in process: After sewing the shoes, she removes the two nails from the middle of the shank and bends it to form to her foot. Then she softens the bunion area of the box with water and applies jet glue inside the tip.
Boston Ballet is about to take off for England for a six-performance run at the London Coliseum next week. To show off the company's range, the dancers will be performing Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, Balanchine’s Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements, resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, Forsythe’s The Second Detail, Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and Kylián’s Bella Figura. How does a dancer prepare for such an intense program overseas? Principal Kathleen Breen Combes gave Pointe a peek inside her process.
What are you most looking forward to about the London tour?
Getting to dance in London for the first time! It's a huge hub for dance media and I'm excited to show them what Boston Ballet has to offer.
How are you preparing?
Physically, it's been intense. We've had a long season and I'm trying to stay in top shape without getting injured. Also, we're bringing quite a diverse repertoire, and it's tricky on the body to switch back and forth so frequently. But I'm doing what I would for any other hard program: Preparing as much as I can, so I can let go on stage.
Do you have any airplane tricks?
Compression socks are a must-have. I learned that the hard way: I once landed in Korea with ankles that looked like elephants! I spent the night with my feet in ice buckets and prayed they would fit into pointe shoes the next day.
What's the most challenging part of performing on a new stage?
It's so interesting how you get used to dancing on a particular stage. A new theater takes some adjusting. I try to get on stage before the first rehearsal to get a feel for the floor and lights. A lot of it is mental; I try to not focus on what is different. Usually you only have that one rehearsal, so you don't want to waste it worrying about things you can't change!
What's your least favorite part of touring?
Checking into the hotel with 60+ people after traveling for hours!
Getting to experience new audiences and their reactions to what we do. It reenergizes the dancers as a group, and we come home a stronger company because of it. Plus, I get to travel to wonderful places and experience different cultures. It's a lot of work—but also a lot of fun.