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Dancers in the snow scene from Staatsballett Berlin's Nutcracker. Carlos Quezada, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin.

The Nutcracker has been a dancer's tradition for over 125 years. As a student at Russia's Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg in the early 1900s, a young George Balanchine performed in the original production of The Nutcracker, created in 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater. In fact, that production had a huge influence on his own version, choreographed in 1954 for the New York City Ballet—and now performed at Christmastime by companies across the nation and abroad.

In 2013, Russian choreographers Vasily Medvedev and Yuri Burlaka staged a revival of the original Mariinsky production for Staatsballett Berlin, based on the 1892 libretto by Marius Petipa, choreography by Lev Ivanov and original set and costume designs. Using a combination of Stepanov notations and early film recordings of Nikolas Sergeyev's first stagings of the ballet in the West, Medvedev and Burlaka built a version of The Nutcracker. Though not a step-by-step reconstruction, their production transmits the original's "unmistakable flair," as they explain in the program notes. Pointe took a look at both the Berlin and New York productions to see how Balanchine's childhood Nutcracker might have influenced his own. We found a lot of similarities—and a few key differences.

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Ballet Stars
Former New York City Ballet soloist Savannah Lowery, here with Evan Swensen, came out of retirement to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Westside School of Ballet's Nutcracker. Photo by Todd Lechtick, courtesy Lowerey.

The holiday season is a time when dusty ornaments and wreaths get trotted out of their boxes for their annual moment to shine. For Jennifer Goodman, there's another item she looks forward to pulling out of the back of her closet: pointe shoes.

Goodman, 45, retired from full-time company life over 10 years ago. She kept performing here and there until 2015, when she transitioned to teaching yoga and ballet. Yet she still gets back onstage for Nutcracker.

"I've said 'one more time' for so many years now," says Goodman. "But my body is still capable, it's held up, so I just keep coming back."

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Everything Nutcracker

On this day in 1965, The Bell Telephone Hour broadcast a Christmas special featuring New York City Ballet principal dancers Melissa Hayden and Jacques d'Amboise. The pair performed the Snow Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, choreographed by d'Amboise, spreading holiday magic far and wide across the country. Their duet, set in a vintage-looking town square and danced with Balanchine briskness, takes on a distinctly American flair. Hayden, with all her gorgeous length, whizzes brilliantly in pirouettes and chaîne turns, while D'Amboise gallantly supports her in expert lifts and nimble jaunts across the stage. His choreography swirls endlessly, conjuring the wonder of watching snow fall outside the window. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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Everything Nutcracker
Stella DiPasquale. Courtesy Joy Jaworski.

Eleven-year-old Stella DiPasquale is preparing to make her debut as Marie this weekend in Fadeyev Ballet's Nutcracker in Greenvale, New York. Decked out in curls and party frills onstage, she'll stand out as the lucky girl who is given a nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. In rehearsals, however, she stands out for another reason, too: DiPasquale, who suffers from alopecia, has no hair.

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Courtesy Dayton Ballet

A few months ago, Dayton Ballet's artistic director, Karen Russo Burke, approached Miranda Dafoe with an unorthodox idea: She wanted to cast a woman in the role of the Nutcracker in the company's holiday production, and she was tapping Dafoe.

"I honestly was pretty shocked," says the Dayton Ballet dancer. "But the more I thought about it, I thought, You know what? Clara's dreaming the whole thing from the battle into the Land of the Sweets. So why can't she dream of a woman saving her from the rats and taking her on this journey?"

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Larke Johnson in rehearsal. Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

Marie and Franz have a new guest at their Christmas Eve party this year. Emma Lookatch and Larke Johnson, both dancers in the Adaptive Dance Program at Joffrey Academy of Dance: Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, are alternating in the new role of Worker Girl. It is a permanent part created specifically for students with disabilities in Christopher Wheeldon's version of The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet.

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Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

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Getty Images

For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

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Everything Nutcracker
Boston Ballet's new Nutcracker Bear Instagram stickers. Courtesy Boston Ballet.

By this point in the year, Nutcracker has already taken over most parts of your life. So why not let it play a role in your Instagram stories too?

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Ballet Stars
Carolina Ballet soloist Sam Ainley, shown here as a teenager, was initially not jazzed about dancing as a Big Mouse in his childhood Nutcracker. But he learned to appreciate the role. Photo Courtesy Ainley.

You have your heart set on a role. Casting goes up. You're crushed. Not only were you passed over for the part you were hoping for, but you're definitely not excited about the role you received.

You're in good company—nearly every dancer has gone through this. We spoke with four professionals about their less-than-desired Nutcracker roles growing up, and asked them to reflect on what they learned from the experience.

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Everything Nutcracker
Boston Ballet in The Nutcracker. Angela Sterling, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Last year, we brought you the first ever Great Nutcracker Roundup, a listing of 71 of our nation's professional Nutcrackers, organized by state. Now we're back, and this year we've included 99 productions in 40 states. So as you get ready to sit down to your turkey (or tofurkey) dinner this week, take a look at this list to find the nearest Nut to you.

Please remember, we're not perfect! If we missed a major Nutcracker production (no schools, please), we want to know. Email clansky@dancemedia.com for consideration.

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Pratt + Kreidich Photography, Courtesy Dancers & Dogs

The holiday season is coming our way, and with it good cheer, a giving spirit and, of course, The Nutcracker. Our favorite photography duo, Dancers & Dogs, has found a way to garner that energy for a good cause: pet adoption.

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