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.

Keep reading... Show less
Everything Nutcracker

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.

Chandra Kuykendall in Colorado Ballet's "The Nutcracker." Photo by 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.

Choreography isn't the only variable. Sugar Plum can have different motives depending on the production. She could be the regal queen of the Land of Sweets welcoming Clara to her kingdom, a maternal figure teaching her the beauty of love, or Clara herself showing that she has come of age. In addition to overcoming the difficulty of the choreography, it's up to each dancer to make artistic choices that really bring the steps to life.

Fairy-in-Chief or Ingenue?

Shading your characterization depends on whom you're trying to portray. In traditional productions, the Sugar Plum Fairy performs the variation. “She's queen of the Land of Sweets," says Sandra Brown, who coaches the variation every year as ballet mistress at Colorado Ballet. “She's very regal and authoritative, so really bend and use your port de bras to show that. Dance with maturity and strength to establish her place in the hierarchy."

In other productions, the variation serves as a moment for Clara/Marie to enter adulthood. “You want to show her transition from a wide-eyed, naïve child to a mature human being," Brown says. “Your movements should be grander and more lyrical than earlier in the ballet. Your energy should be more grounded and subtle than that of a giddy child."

Let Technique Be Your Guide

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