Juliet Doherty looking out from the Radio City Music Hall stage
A list of Clara alumnae from Radio City's Christmas Spectacular reads like a star-studded, international gala program: Tiler Peck and Brittany Pollack of New York City Ballet (and Broadway), Meaghan Grace Hinkis of The Royal Ballet, Whitney Jensen of Norwegian National Ballet and more. Madison Square Garden's casting requirements for the role are simple: The dancer should be 4' 10" and under, appear to be 14 years old or younger and have strong ballet technique and pointework.
The unspoken requisite? They need abundant tenacity at a very young age.
Corey Whalen photographed by Carl Scheffel; Courtesy MSG Photos
Performing around 100 shows of the annual Christmas Spectacular per season, Radio City Rockette Corey Whalen can practically do her stage makeup in her sleep. "I give myself about 20 minutes to do my makeup, and then I keep it on—even if we have a four-show day," she says. With a full look that includes light contouring, liquid eyeliner, false eyelashes and a red lip as precise as the Rockettes' famous kick line, that's no small feat.
Never underestimate the beauty of a super-straight line.
We all know the name of The Rockettes' game is precision. But I didn't know exactly how precise until I stepped into a rehearsal for the
Radio City Christmas Spectacular last week. Director Julie Branam led the hour-long practice of the "New York at Christmas" number for 80 Rockettes, clad in black spandex and shiny La Ducas.
How do they become a kick line of perfection?
Precise legs: The Rockettes' battements are to eye level—no higher, no lower.
Staying together: Often, Branam would remind the dancers of not just the downbeats and other big musical markers, but the ands. The Rockettes count out the in-between movements, like at what count the knee should bend to the chest before it extends for a kick.
It's all about the photo opp: Counts are called so that the full picture is already realized on the count, every so slightly ahead of the music, sort of like how it is in Balanchine training.
Lots of floor markers: There are what seems like hundreds of numbers and lines taped off on the floor, marking where each dancer should stand and where they should meet at any given moment. It's sort of like when you mark your space on stage using center stage/half stage or figure out where you should be based on the marley tape—but way more precise.
Angles are everything: I noticed that most of the facings for the hips and shoulders were pretty simple. Maybe their hips were flat forward, but their shoulders were twisted flat to the side. It made things crisper, but it also called for a lot of flexibility in the upper back. The idea that you were stuck "between two panes of glass" was called out a lot.
The eyes say it: Sure, legs are important. But the focus is where it comes together. Branam and her team reminded dancers where they should be looking, using the second or third mezzanine for reference.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular will run November 13–January 3. Until then, check out this behind-the-scenes clip of the "New York at Christmas" number we took during rehearsal.