Dance in Pop Culture

You'll Never Guess Which Dancers Made Their Stage Debut as a Radio City Clara

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.


The girls selected have to perform anywhere from one to three shows per day (an average of six shows per week and 66 for the entire season). Not to mention braving Radio City Music Hall's 6,000-seat theater or, in previous years, multicity tours alongside the world-famous Radio City Rockettes. It comes as no surprise that many of these prodigies go on to successful dance careers.

Dance Magazine spoke with five former Claras about their time in the Christmas Spectacular and the lessons they learned along the way.

Catherine Hurlin, American Ballet Theatre soloist

Catherine Hurlin

Left: Hurlin with fellow Radio City Clara Allie Parsons. Right: Hurlin in ABT's Nutcracker, photo by Gene Schiavone.

Years as Clara at Radio City: 2007, 2008, 2009

Ages: 11, 12, 13

Location: Radio City Music Hall

Onstage preparation: "My warm-up was 'The 12 Days of Christmas,' the number right before my part. I would do the entire dance with the Rockettes in the wings. There was this one moment where they would look in the wings and I would jump up and down and wave my hands, saying 'You're doing a good job! Keep going.' "

Souvenir: "I still have a pair of pointe shoes from the show, and they're crazy-looking. They're painted bubble-gum pink because that was the look of the costume. And the stage does not have marley on it, so they had to put on rubber tips. So it's this little, itty-bitty shoe, but the block is bright pink, with this big, fat rubber piece on the top."

Takeaways for professional life: "I performed so much that I got used to the stage, and because it's such a big stage you have to project a big smile. Like air-biting: a real cheeseball of a smile in order for the people in the back to see it."

Juliet Doherty, freelance ballet dancer and actress

Juliet Doherty

Left: Doherty performing as Clara, photo by Gene Schiavone. Right: Doherty performing today

Years as Clara: 2009, 2010, 2011

Ages: 12, 13, 14

Location: Seattle-Pittsburgh and Florida-Texas tours, Radio City Music Hall

Biggest challenge: "Finger pirouettes with the bear. He's in one of those big heads that has very little vision out of the mouth. There's a lot more distance you have to create so you don't end up whacking the bear on the nose. And at the end we had to do a shoulder sit, so that was always a challenge."

On tour vs. performing at Radio City Music Hall: "The first year on tour my mom came with me. I got really close with the cast because we all stayed in the same hotel and most of the time were in one place for a month. But New York City was my favorite theater-wise, because we got to be on a stage practically the size of a football field!"

Favorite number: "They don't do it anymore, but it was called 'Let Christmas Shine.' It was at the end of the show, and the Rockettes were dressed in these Swarovski-encrusted costumes. The lyrics we sang went "Shine out the light of love. Shine out the light of joy." It's a mantra I've carried with me ever since."

Katelyn Gaffney, Rockette

Katelyn Gaffney

Left: Gaffney as Clara, photo by Carl SCheffel/MSG Photos. Right: Gaffney in Rockette rehearsal today. Photos courtesy MSG

Year as Clara: 2003

Age: 11–12

Location: Branson, Missouri, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tour

Biggest challenge: "Learning the stage was very difficult for me, because the stages were so massive. There are lines and numbers and a particular spot for you to be in at every single point in time. I feel like growing up as dancers a lot of the time we're trained to be soloists, but as Clara, you really are part of the production. There's a time and a place for every single movement."

Favorite number as Clara: "The Nutcracker scene. And that's actually a scene that's still in the Christmas Spectacular now. It's so fun. The teddy bears come to life. It's our own version of the traditional Nutcracker."

Best then-and-now moment: "I get a little teary-eyed every single year when the Claras enter for the first time. You can see their faces light up when they see us. I remember that my whole heart just exploded with joy when I saw the Rockettes for that first time in rehearsal."

Angelica Generosa, Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist

Angelica Generosa

Left: Generosa as Clara. Right: Generosa as Sugar Plum at PNB, photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB.

Year as Clara: 2005

Age: 13

Location: Radio City Music Hall

Major Radio City vs. ballet Nutcracker difference: "The production is a lot different now from when I did it back in the day. The Clara had to pretend sing in a little elf scene. They had a voiceover for us, but we did have a mic just in case the voice didn't work out. So I did have to rehearse to sing, but I never had to sing live."

Souvenir: "I still have a Nutcracker that I bought from the souvenir shop and I made all the Rockettes sign it!"

Takeaways for professional life: "When I danced it we had to do fouetté turns. And I remember practicing every single day and making sure I got it. It disciplined me for anything that was hard and taught me to overcome that fear. Now, doing Sugar Plum Fairy is way harder, because you have to carry the whole performance. As Clara it was just eight minutes. I had no idea what pacing meant."

Whitney Jensen, Norwegian National Ballet principal

Whitney Jensen

Left: With fellow Clara Meghan Grace Hinkis. Right: Jensen performing today, photo by Rosalie O'Connor

Years as Clara: 2003, 2004

Ages: 11, 12

Location: Radio City Music Hall

Major Radio City vs. ballet Nutcracker difference: "At Radio City the Nutcracker is just a suite, a short, condensed version of the story with oversized characters. There are large teddy bears dressed as ballerinas in pointe shoes!"

Takeaways for professional life: "It set me up for an incredibly independent career. At age 11, I learned the discipline of homeschooling. I also learned what it's like to work as a professional, understanding dancer responsibilities and rights, taking direction on a massive stage, learning how to do tech rehearsals, conquering stage fright if I had to sing. I also learned how to perform when you don't feel like it!"

Favorite onstage memory: "Before my first performance, preparing for my entrance as Clara, I had a flashback to a few years earlier, sitting in the audience at Radio City watching the Christmas Spectacular and telling myself 'I want to be that girl!' And all of the sudden that dream was real. For me, at 11, it was the biggest thing in the world."

The Conversation
Spotlight
James Alsop has choreographed for stars from Beyoncé to Janelle Monae. Photo via Facebook

Even if you haven't heard her name, you've almost certainly seen the work of commercial choreographer James Alsop. Though she's made award-winning dances for Beyoncé ("Run the World," anyone?) and worked with stars like Lady GaGa and Janelle Monae, Alsop's most recent project may be her most powerful: A moving music video for Everytown for Gun Safety, directed by Ezra Hurwitz and featuring students from the National Dance Institute.

Enough! www.youtube.com

We caught up with Alsop for our "Spotlight" series:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Magazine Awards
A very important name got skipped in the introductions.

I want to make an apology because, in my opening speech at the Dance Magazine Awards on Monday, I inadvertently left out one awardee. I said, "Tonight we are honoring four outstanding dance artists who have contributed to the dance field over time." But then I named only three. How could I have forgotten Lourdes Lopez?!?!

We had all been hearing about Lourdes's taking the helm at Miami City Ballet with grace, intelligence, compassion and new ideas. I was planning to say, "Lourdes Lopez, who has brought new life to Miami City Ballet" because I thought that would cover a lot of ground. (My only quibble with myself was whether to say "brought new life" or "gave new life.")

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Albert Watson, courtesy of Pirelli Calendar

We were beyond excited to see the annual Pirelli Calendar when it was announced last summer that Misty Copeland was to be one of four women featured in the 2019 edition. And now, the wait is finally over.

Albert Watson, courtesy of Pirelli Calendar.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Julia Roberts is one of 12 celebs Justin Peck choreographed on. Photo by Philip Montgomery, Courtesy NYT Mag.

Each year, The New York Times Magazine shines a spotlight on who they deem to be the best actors of the year in its Great Performers series. But, what we're wondering is, can they dance? Thankfully, the NYT Mag recruited none other than Justin Peck to put them to the test.

Peck choreographed and directed a series of 10 short dance films, placing megastars in everyday situations: riding the subway, getting out of bed in the morning, waiting at a doctor's office.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Magazine Awards
Clockwise from top left: Crystal Pite, photo by Michael Slobodian; Lourdes Lopez, photo by Alexander Iziliaev; Michael Trusnovec, photo via Instagram; Ronald K. Brown, photo by Julieta Cervantes

Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Even a 10-minute nap can give you a performance boost. Photo by Getty Images

On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."

With her earbuds tuned to a guided medi­tation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."

Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.

As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choos­ing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.

Keep reading... Show less
In Memoriam

On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)

The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Precious Adams is not cast as Odette/Odile, but is the face of ENB's marketing campaign. Screenshot via English National Ballet's website

Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.

But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Amy Seiwert rehearses Sacramento Ballet. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

Gennadi Nedvigin is not the only early tenure director breaking out a new production of The Nutcracker this season.

Keep reading... Show less
News
RUBBERBANDance Group in Victor Quijada's Vraiment doucement. Photo by Mathieu Doyon, Courtesy Danse Danse

We love The Nutcracker as much as the next person, but that perennial holiday classic isn't the only thing making its way onstage this month. Here are five alternatives that piqued our editors' curiosity.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Yuri Possokhov at work on his new Nutcracker for Atlanta Ballet. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet

The Nutcracker is synonymous with American ballet. So when Gennadi Nedvigin took the helm at Atlanta Ballet in 2016, a new version of the holiday classic was one of his top priorities. This month, evidence of two years' worth of changes will appear when the company unwraps its latest version at Atlanta's Fox Theatre Dec. 8–24. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and produced on a larger-than-ever scale for Atlanta, the new ballet represents Nedvigin's big ambitions.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching
Shelby Colona and Chris Bloom in CARMEN.maquia. PC Christopher Duggan

Ballet Hispánico returns to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with its full-length ballet, CARMEN.maquia. Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has reenvisioned the story of Carmen to emphasize Don José, the man who falls in love with Carmen, suffers because of her infidelity, then murders her in a "fit of passion." Their duets are filled with all the sensuality, jealousy and violence you could wish for—in a totally contemporary dance language.

Sansano's previous piece for Ballet Hispánico, El Beso, bloomed with a thousand playful and witty ways of expressing desire. He has a knack for splicing humor into romance.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
Sending a video audition gives you more control over the process. Photo by ShareGrid via Unsplash

Not being able to attend the in-person audition at your top college can feel like the end of the world. But while it's true that going to the live audition is ideal, you can still make the best out of sending a video. Here are some of the perks:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Dance classes will be a part of a movement towards "social prescribing." Photo by Leon Liu via Unsplash

It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.

But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
LINES dancer Courtney Henry. Photo by Quinn Wharton

We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.

But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.

A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Ramasar and Catazaro, photos via Instagram

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)

The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:

"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."

Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm really upset with myself for bingeing. I'm good with my diet for a few days, but then I give in and stuff myself with pizza and ice cream and am filled with self-hate.

—Binge Eater, White Plains, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Magazine Awards
Misty Copeland opened the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

What does it mean to be human? Well, many things. But if you were at the Dance Magazine Awards last night, you could argue that to be human is to dance. Speeches about the powerful humanity of our art form were backed up with performances by incredible dancers hailing from everywhere from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to Miami City Ballet.

Misty Copeland started off the celebration. A self-professed "Dance Magazine connoisseur from the age of 13," she not only spoke about how excited she was to be in a room full of dancers, but also—having just come from Dance Theatre of Harlem's memorial for Arthur Mitchell—what she saw as their duty: "We all in this room hold a responsibility to use this art for good," she said. "Dance unifies, so let's get to work."

That sentiment was repeated throughout the night.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
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."

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave
Jessica Lang Dance in Lang's Thousand Yard Stare. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

When I read last month that Jessica Lang Dance had announced its farewell, I'm sure I wasn't the only dancer surprised. In the same way that many of us, when reading an obituary, instinctively look for the cause of death, I searched for a reason for the company's unexpected folding. It was buried in the fifth paragraph of The New York Times article:

Her manager, Margaret Selby, said in an interview that Jessica Lang Dance's closing showed how difficult it is to keep a small dance company running these days. "You have to raise so much money, the smaller companies don't have enough staff, and Jessica was running the company for the last seven years without a day off," she said. "She wants to focus on creative work."

Whereas the announcement itself may have come as a shock, the root cause certainly doesn't. All of us in the field are familiar with the conditions to which Selby refers. But that these problems can topple the success of a company like Lang's, which boasts seven years of national and international touring that include commissions from Jacob's Pillow and The Joyce, among others, is sobering.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
The author participating in ON DISPLAY. Photo by Nicholas Saretzky, Courtesy Dombroski

There is someone less than a foot away from me, just off of my right shoulder, observing the way I'm holding my hand strangely, but perhaps gracefully? I hope my nails are clean. My arm is starting to tremble. I'm not even sure how much time has gone by. I let my arm gently, almost imperceptibly, fall, allowing my shoulder to melt with it, and stop myself mid-breath. "I am...right here," I say to myself with my director's voice in my head. I am ON DISPLAY.

ON DISPLAY is a human sculpture court, a living gallery of individuals that experience themselves just as they are from moment to moment, without any premeditated movements. Created by Heidi Latsky, it serves as commentary on the body as spectacle and society's obsessions with body image. This piece reverts the objectifying gaze members of the fashion, disability and performance worlds are subjected to.

Keep reading... Show less

You Might Also Like

Viral Videos

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox

Giveaways