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The end of summer can only mean one thing in ballet world: Nutcracker audition season. It's the time of year when everyone at your studio is on edge with excitement, nerves and dreams. It's when you rewatch your DVD of last year's performance, practice choreography in your kitchen and make a list of roles you hope to get.

Nutcracker might be your only performance opportunity of the year, or the most significant one, so stakes are high. It's understandable if you feel anxious. We spoke with American Ballet Theatre principal Stella Abrera and Joffrey Ballet dancer Lucia Connolly, who have been in your ballet shoes, as well as Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet school principal Alecia Good-Boresow for their advice on approaching this year's Nutcracker auditions.

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Jennifer Garner wants the world to know that she takes game day seriously—and she's not talking about football. For ballet dancers during December, there's obviously only one type of "game day." Nutcracker, of course.

Garner is a highly documented ballet lover, and, this time, she went the extra mile to show her dedication. Thankfully, she was on hand as American Ballet Theatre warmed up for its current Nutcracker run at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California.

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Everything Nutcracker
Daniel Ulbricht in Jerome Robbins' Suite of Dances at New York City Ballet. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB.

We tend to think that by the time you've made it to principal at a major company, you've performed all of Nutcracker's leading roles. But for New York City Ballet star Daniel Ulbricht, this Nutcracker season proves extra special. On December 21, Ulbricht, who joined the company in 2000, will dance as the Cavalier on the NYCB stage for the first time with Erica Pereira as his Sugarplum Fairy.

The princely Cavalier role will be a departure from the bravura roles he typically dances (and excels at). We touched base with Ulbricht to hear about how he's making the role his own, and how creating opportunities to dance Balanchine's Cavalier outside of NYCB has prepared him for this debut.

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Everything Nutcracker
Samuel Zaldivar as Boston Ballet's lovable party scene bear. Courtesy Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

For dancers, The Nutcracker isn't all winter wonderlands and charming sweets. To bring this ballet to life, we have to spar with swords (often while wearing a clunky head), pirouette in animal suits, and perform day after day with a host of other potentially hazardous costumes and props. Despite the dangers, Nutcracker's eccentric roles can be the most fun to perform. As five dancers describe, Nutcracker's whimsical, albeit taxing, accoutrements have their own kind of magic.

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Everything Nutcracker
Lauren Archer with children at the "Signing Santa" event at the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, VA. Photo Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Richmond Ballet dancer Lauren Archer never thought she'd be able to blend ballet with her knowledge of American Sign Language. But at a recent "Signing Santa" event at the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, Virginia, Archer—dressed as the Snow Queen from Nutcracker—got to make an extra-special connection with deaf and hard-of-hearing children. "Most of the parents and children were shocked to see that I was able to sign with them and that I wasn't just there for the pictures," Archer says. "I think the children loved meeting a real-life ballerina who was also able to communicate with them in their own language."

Archer began learning ASL 12 years ago, when her family adopted her younger brother, who is deaf. "He was almost 5 years old with absolutely no language or way to communicate," she says. "We continued to learn the language and teach him more and more each day—and now he's the one teaching us!"

Richmond Ballet's Lauren Archer Used American Sign Language to Spread "Nutcracker" Cheer youtu.be

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Everything Nutcracker
Atlanta Ballet in Nutcracker. Photo by C. McCullers, Courtesy AB.

Battling sore muscles during a lengthy Nutcracker run? Add these three items to your grocery list for easier recovery between shows.

Eggs

Danielle MacInnes via Unsplash

These protein superstars contain all the essential amino acids, making them helpful for building and repairing muscle.

Everything Nutcracker
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.

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Everything Nutcracker
Isabelle Lapierre in a still from Finding Clara. Courtesy Justice Studios.

Last winter, we told you all about "Finding Clara," a YouTube series produced by tween clothing brand Justice. It followed four BalletMet Academy students cast in BalletMet's The Nutcracker. This year, it gets even better: The heart-melting show has been turned into a full-length documentary. Finding Clara was released today for rental and purchase on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.

Finding Clara Trailer youtu.be

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Everything Nutcracker
Courtesy Justice Studios

Finding Clara is a full-length documentary produced by Justice Studios that follows four young dancers from the BalletMet Academy as they prepare for The Nutcracker's leading role. Read all about it here. We're giving away five copies of the DVD including some extra gifts from tween clothing retailer Justice. Enter now to win!

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Everything Nutcracker
Atlanta Ballet dancers in rehearsal with Yuri Possokhov. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

When Gennadi Nedvigin took over as artistic director of Atlanta Ballet in 2016, one of his first goals was to produce a new Nutcracker; it's been over 20 years since the company's last revamp by former director John McFall. Nedvigin immediately turned to choreographer Yuri Possokhov. "You need to be a really mature choreographer to visualize the whole story," says Nedvigin. Now, two years later, Atlanta Ballet's new Nutcracker will come to life December 8–24.

Yuri Possokhov's "The Nutcracker" www.youtube.com

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Everything Nutcracker
New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin. Photo by Nick Nakahara, Courtesy Pazcoguin.

As conversations in the ballet world about race and representation have opened up in the past few years, its most beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, has come under scrutiny as well. Last year New York City Ballet made changes to its second act Chinese Tea variation, removing elements of racial caricature from both the costume and makeup and the choreography.

NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, who is part Filipino, was one of the voices fighting for that change. This year, as companies and schools worldwide are gearing up for Nutcracker season, Pazcoguin, along with former dancer and arts administrator Phil Chan, is back with a new campaign. Final Bow For Yellowface is an online platform dedicated to educating companies and schools on how to veer away from offensive Asian stereotypes (yellowface) and providing resources on how to make those changes. The site also lets readers join dance world luminaries including Virginia Johnson, Julie Kent, Adam Sklute, Troy Schumacher and Christopher Wheeldon in signing a pledge to end the practice of yellowface onstage. We touched base with Pazcoguin to hear about how this initiative came to be, and what she and Chan have in the works for the future.

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Everything Nutcracker
Moscow Ballet's "Russian Variation." Courtesy Moscow Ballet.

Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker is not your average Nut. In 1994, the production debuted in six cities across the U.S. This winter, three simultaneously traveling companies of Russian dancers will bring the ballet to 137 cities, incorporating up to 120 local children in each location. For Mary Talmi, co-founder and producer of Talmi Entertainment, which produces the show, this is no small feat. "The role of arts education in this country is needed more than ever, and the more expansive our tour is, the more I realize that the benefits to the children are way beyond dance," she says.

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