Snow Scene in Val Caniparoli's The Nutcracker for Louisville Ballet. Photography by Wade Bell
Choreographer Val Caniparoli started his ballet career by performing in Lew Christensen's The Nutcracker with San Francisco Ballet in 1971. Today, he still performs with SFB as Drosselmeir, in the company's current version by Helgi Tomasson.
It takes Caniparoli a lot of concentration to stick to the choreography.
"I have the four versions that I choreographed of the role in my head, plus the original I danced for years by Lew," he says. "That's a lot of versions to keep straight."
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.
NYCB's snow scene. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
As any good bunhead would tell you, for me, Nutcracker is a yearly tradition as old as leaving cookies out for Santa Claus. But this year, I got to experience it with fresh eyes by taking both my 35-year-old fiancé and my 5-year-old nephew for their first times.
I didn't plan on being a Nutcracker evangelist. But my fiancé Brent decided he really, really wanted to see it, and my mother decided that Nutcracker tickets were really what I should give my nephew Robbie for Christmas. So I found myself taking Brent with me to New York City Ballet, and Robbie to San Francisco Ballet while I was home for the holidays.
And experiencing it with them made me realize just how much those of us who've seen and performed Nutcracker dozens of time take for granted. Their reactions made me see the ballet in a whole new light:
Samrawit Saleem, photo by Angela Sterling, via PNB
Two questions I'm often asked as an advocate for diversity in ballet are, "Do you think ballet organizations are genuine?" and, "Do you think it's changing?"
Quite honestly, there are times when I am not so certain. Then there are days when I get texts and Facebook messages alerting me to a story that reinforces my belief that ballet might just be shifting.
One such moment was in late November when Andrea Long-Naidu texted me the image of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Clara, Samrawit Saleem. There she was, seated on the floor in her party dress, gazing down lovingly at her Nutcracker with an elegant use of épaulement. Andrea called me, "Theresa, she's gorgeous, she's brown and look at her hair!!" She was referring to Saleem's double strand twists that were styled half-up half-down. My mouth was agape.
Sydney Dolan in company class. Photo by Scott Serio.
Pennsylvania Ballet apprentice Sydney Dolan is having a Nutcracker season she'll never forget.
Artistic director Angel Corella knew he'd found something special when Dolan attended his school's week-long Company Experience summer workshop in 2016. Within days, he offered her a company contract— without realizing that she was only 15 at the time.
She joined anyway. Now 16, she debuted as the Dewdrop Fairy in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker this weekend. We went backstage to find out how she handled the pressures of tackling a principal role while still just a teenage apprentice.
Kretzschmar as Sugarplum Fairy. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
Nutcracker season starts today at many ballet companies, including New York City Ballet. For corps members like Claire Kretzschmar, that means an always demanding schedule reaches a whole new level of busy. Here's how she keeps herself going.
Kretzschmar in the Coffee variation. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.