Profiles
Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz as the Sugar Plum Fairy during a stage rehearsal for George Balanchine's Nutcracker. All photography by Arian Molina Soca.

For many professional ballet dancers, Nutcracker means weeks of performances. That usually translates to multiple casts—and important breakout opportunities for those in the junior ranks. On the afternoon of December 13, Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy along with her Cavalier, corps member Austin Eylar. For the Brazilian-born dancer, who joined PAB in 2018 after two seasons at Houston Ballet, Sugar Plum marks one of her first principal roles.

"I'm really excited," says Golz. PAB artistic director Angel Corella appointed 12 casts of Sugar Plum Fairies over the run's 29 performances. "When I first found out, I was like, 'Pinch me!' I still can't believe it."

We caught up with Golz just before her debut to see how she prepared for her big break.

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Viral Videos

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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Just for fun
Misty Copeland as the Ballerina Princess in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Photo Courtesy Disney.

It's August—the sun is shining, summer intensives are winding down, and Nutcracker seems very far away. But this new trailer for Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is already getting us in the holiday mood. While this modern take on classic holiday story, in theaters November 2, is not a dance film, it does include mega-stars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin as the Ballerina Princess and Nutcracker Prince.

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News
Misty Copeland as the Ballerina Princess in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Photo Courtesy Disney.

It's August—the sun is shining, summer intensives are winding down, and Nutcracker seems very far away. But this new trailer for Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is already getting us in the holiday mood. While this modern take on the classic holiday story, in theaters November 2, is not a dance film, it does include mega-stars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin as the Ballerina Princess and Nutcracker Prince.

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Profiles

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Nutcracker are simply iconic—two of the world's most celebrated dancers in the world's best-loved ballet. Starring as Clara and the Prince in American Ballet Theater's 1977 made-for-television film, these two superb talents bring both technical and dramatic brilliance to the ballet's culminating scene.

In this version, which Baryshnikov himself choreographed, Clara and the Prince dance the grand pas de deux. He also mixes up the order so that the variations and coda precede the adagio. The clip begins with the tail end of Kirkland's variation, followed by a flawlessly danced coda. Baryshnikov, looking debonair in all white, flies in his jumps, rebounding off the floor like a spring, and Kirkland's impressive diagonal at 0:43 boasts triple fouetté turns.

The mood changes when Drosselmeyer, played by Alexander Minz, arrives in the first chords of the adagio to usher Clara away from her dreamland. In a pas de trois, Clara is torn between her beloved godfather and her prince, reluctant to choose between childhood and the promise of her dreams. In her gauzy nightgown, the delicate Kirkland is ethereal and waif-like as she is promenaded and passed in the air between her partners. She and Baryshnikov make a tender couple and in the end, as she chaînes into his arms, it is clear that she longs to stay with her prince. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in "Nutcracker." Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Our company's Nutcracker was choreographed by Sir Peter Wright, and it's very traditional. We usually only have two weeks to prepare after the end of the autumn season, so my partner and I start going over the grand pas de deux on our own time before rehearsals start. I like to do my own research through social media or by watching how other company dancers interpret the role, drawing from what I like best and trying to apply that to myself. I also video my rehearsals and later critique them, to try to get my performance up to another level.

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New York City Ballet principals Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

She's regal, yet kind. Approachable yet commanding. Delicate yet firm. Clara may be the heart of Nutcracker, but the Sugar Plum Fairy is its soul, with her sparkling, queenly dancing. In most versions of the ballet, we sit through nearly the whole thing just to see her. This year, whether you're dancing the role, cheering on a friend from backstage or taking notes on your company's guest artists, really familiarize yourself with everyone's favorite fairy.

1. Even though Lev Ivanov's original choreography shows up in most Sugar Plum Fairy variations, there are countless versions of Nutcracker and just as many motivations for Sugar Plum's dancing. Make sure you understand the "why," along with the "how," of your character's choreography before setting foot onstage.

2. Guesting as a Sugar Plum Fairy can be artistically and financially rewarding—and riddled with problems. Brush up on your business savvy before signing any contracts.

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Do you have a favorite Sugar Plum Fairy costume? It's kind of like trying to choose a favorite child—but each company decks out the show-stopping tutu in such unique and gorgeous ways that picking one isn't really slighting the others. And anyway, we'd rather just enjoy the beauty of costume craftsmanship brought to life by gorgeous ballerinas around the world. Enjoy!

The National Ballet of Canada's pink perfection:

Sonia Rodriguez (photo by Bruce Zinger)

 

San Francisco Ballet goes for the gold:

Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin (photo by Erik Tomasson)

 

The Royal Ballet's demure blue:

Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli (photo by Dave Morgan)

 

Pacific Northwest Ballet's pop of purple:

Elizabeth Murphy (photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB)

 

Boston Ballet's dynamic details:

Misa Kuranaga (photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Career
Chandra Kuykendall in Colorado Ballet's The Nutcracker. Terry Shapiro, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Timeless as it may be, The Nutcracker has undergone a number of face-lifts. Yet for all the changes in setting, story and characterizations, the Sugar Plum Fairy variation always looks the same—well, sort of. A loose blueprint of Lev Ivanov's original choreography serves as a go-to model for almost all Sugar Plums (or adult Claras, who sometimes perform the pas). But just as companies tweak their productions, ballerinas often alter the variation to suit their strengths.

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