5 Veteran Ballet Dancers on What It Takes to Survive Nutcracker
Few people who are busier during the holidays than corps members of American ballet companies. December is officially Nutcracker season—a company's chance to earn a huge chunk of their revenue for the year, and a dancer's chance to go a little, ahem, nuts, waltzing and swallowing fake snow night after night for weeks on end.
But Nutcracker can also be an opportunity like no other, and for some corps members, it's the highlight of their year. Five dancers told us what helps them get through it all.
Kimberly Marie Olivier of San Francisco Ballet
Olivier, here in SFB's Mirliton divertissement, appreciates getting to dance so many roles during Nutcracker. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB.
Years dancing Nutcracker at SFB: 9
How the production has changed: "Helgi has changed some of Act II, and now the dancers all sit onstage during the Grand Pas. At first, my thought was, 'I don't want to get cold watching someone else dance.' However, it's quite epic to be up close cheering on the principals. I mean, imagine Sofiane Sylve looking you in the eye and smiling as she's about to turn around and jump up on to Tiit Helimits' shoulders!"
Go-to Nutcracker fuel: "Urban Remedy has all the answers! Also a Vietnamese spot called Dragon Eats has light, fresh fueling choices. The Green Cabbage Salad with tofu or Fresh Spring Rolls are my go-tos. Also, I usually have fruit nearby—an apple, banana or persimmon. When I get home, it usually doesn't matter so much what I eat, unless I'm having a hard time managing my weight (real talk)."
How she keeps performances fresh: "I enjoy Nutcracker because it's the time that I get to dance the most. In Flowers, right before I run on, I do a funny dance to make the dancer behind me or across from me laugh somehow. During Snow Scene, I make animal noises, only loud enough to make the girl I pass chuckle."
Best Nutcracker memory: "Seeing two of my dear friends perform Mirlitons during the finale as their long ribbons get knotted together. I laughed so hard. One was not amused at all, and the other did her best to pretend it was intentional!"
Paige Adams of Ballet West
Adams avoids Nutcracker burnout by remembering that every performance is someone's first ballet. Photo by Beau Pearson, courtesy Ballet West.
Years dancing Nutcracker at Ballet West: 8
How she keeps performances fresh: "Sometimes I will pick something super-specific to focus on for an entire show, like my fingers or juicy pliés."
Go-to Nutcracker fuel: "A banana with almond butter. I tend to eat smaller, more frequent snacks to keep my energy up and to avoid feeling too full during a performance."
Her self-care musts: "Especially on back-to-back two-show days, the ice bucket becomes my new best friend. On days off, I will either schedule a massage or create my own spa hour at home with an Epsom salt bath and aromatherapy candles."
Ballet West's backstage ritual: "In our corps women's dressing room, we hang a long strand of little plastic monkeys, each representing a Nutcracker show. After every performance we remove the bottom monkey and loudly 'Ooh-Ooh-Eee-Eee' like monkeys. We may be delirious but it keeps things fun."
Jaimi Cullen of Tulsa Ballet
Cullen in Tulsa Ballet's Party Scene. Photo courtesy Tulsa Ballet.
Years dancing Nutcracker at Tulsa Ballet: 8
How her approach has changed: "When I was first starting out in the company, I used to really 'punch' every step. I would put all of my energy into everything and tire out really fast. I've learned to manage my energy, how to use less force but still be dancing full-out."
Extra Nutcracker fuel: "I sometimes put Nuun electrolyte tablets in my water to drink throughout the show."
Self-care musts: "I roll out my muscles as often as I can and I make sure to see the physical therapist or massage therapist in between shows if I'm having any specific tightness or pain."
Dawn Atkins of Boston Ballet
Atkins, here in Snow Scene, keeps her energy up with pumpkin seeds and trail mixes in her dressing room. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet.
Years dancing Nutcracker with Boston Ballet: 8
Favorite backstage treats: "Peanut butter pretzel nuggets! We always have a big jar of them in the dressing room."
Self-care musts: "I try to make sure I'm letting myself rest between shows even if it's just 15 minutes that I listen to music and just let myself nap a little bit. I also love using NormaTec boots."
How she keeps performances fresh: "I actually really like the feeling of being so familiar with a role that you can find new things to work on each time."
Chelsea Marie Renner of Ballet Austin
Renner getting ready backstage for the Snow Scene. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, courtesy Ballet Austin.
Years dancing Nutcracker at Ballet Austin: 14
How her approach has changed: "When I came to Ballet Austin as a trainee at 18, it was about proving myself. Over the years, your body gets to know the choreography so well that you just get to go out onstage and dance."
Favorite backstage treats: "I always like to bake a tray of holiday cookies to share with everyone. You never know when you might need that little chocolate boost come show #10, or sooner!"
Self-care rituals: "We make ice buckets and warm water buckets for contrast baths in the dressing room. I also like to take a hot shower, followed by stretching and rolling out after each show. On our off days, I spend time with my husband and my son to have a day away from ballet, so I can come back the next day fresh and ready to perform."
Best Nutcracker memory: "Last year, I got to perform the Sugar Plum Fairy for the first time since high school: My first year in The Nutcracker as a kid I was a mouse, and my last year before moving to Austin from Montana, I was the Sugar Plum Fairy; then in my first season at Ballet Austin I was a rat, and last year I got cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
"Every year The Nutcracker rolls around, all of those memories come flooding back, including the year I watched from the audience while pregnant with my son. Now I get to share my love of The Nutcracker with him every year."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
As more states legalize cannabis, it seems the sales pitch for cannabidiol—or CBD—gets broader and broader. A quick internet search turns up claims that CBD helps with pain, depression, acne, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress, epilepsy and cancer. But the marketplace is unregulated, which makes it tricky to find out what CBD actually does.
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.