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Sacramento Ballet’s The Nutcracker

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There are many holiday traditions that we all have and share. A tradition held by many around the world is listening to, participating in or performing “The Nutcracker.”

Friday night the Sacramento Ballet hosted “Inside the Director’s Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker,” where dancers talked about “The Nutcracker” and shared their personal points of view.

Artistic director Ron Cunningham welcomed guests to the event, saying the dancers would talk about their experiences and how they prepare for shows.

Cunningham also called the audience’s attention to a Sacramento Ballet calendar featuring the photography of resident photographer Keith Sutter. Cunningham noted that the calendar would make a wonderful Christmas gift and several of them were later sold at the lobby. Dancers available after the show were happy to autograph calendars purchased.

Dancers sat on the floor of the Sacramento Ballet Studios facing the audience. The setting was very casual, and approximately 25 dancers participated. Christopher Brian Nachtrab and Alexandra Cunningham served as moderators of the event.

Inside the Directors Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker

“The event is entitled ‘Inside the Director’s Studio,’ but tonight it’s ‘Inside the Dancers’ Studio,’” Nachtrab said. “It’s a perspective of how we deal with ‘The Nutcracker,’ year after year after year after year…” Nachtrab continued drawing laughter.

Nachtrab’s insight to their performances was very intriguing, and events such as this allow guests to learn more about the dancers. It also gives the audience an idea of what goes on behind the curtain.

Inside the Directors Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker

“The Nutcracker” has a large cast of members and dancers who may have to perform as more than one character. How do the dancers spend their time backstage when not performing? What’s the hardest part about performing? Who does hair, makeup and costumes? Those were some questions answered as dancers talked about their experiences.

Nachtrab shared that since this is so close to Christmas many of the dancers have to skip holiday parties they’re invited to because of rehearsals and performances. Their last performance is the day before Christmas Eve and if they have to travel it becomes a little burdensome. 

Nachtrab said, “Since I live across the country I don’t get home until Christmas Eve and I really can’t tell my family I have to go out and buy presents so I have to be well prepared.  Another thing that the dancers have to cope with is makeup". Nachtrab stated, “The ladies have to put on lots of makeup and it becomes very demanding on them.”

Other dancers noted that they get into character mode with the help of other dancers and try to keep limber. One of the dancers noted that there’s a lot of bouncing, jumping and stretching backstage. If dancers are not on stage they’re busy doing their own hair and makeup, changing into different costumes and preparing for their performance.

Inside the Directors Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker

“The Nutcracker” has been performed around the world for over 100 years, and generations of fans continue to follow ballet performances. The dancers at the Sacramento event shared some of their experiences when they saw their first “Nutcracker” performance.

Nachtrab said he saw his first performance when he was 5 years old.

“I sat on my mom’s lap because there was a gentleman who was way too tall sitting in front of me,” he said. “I enjoyed the whole thing, and after I walked out of the theater, I said that I just loved it. “

Dancer Lauren Breen shared that her mom had taken her to watch “The Nutcracker” when she was 3 years old, but she did not remember it.

It was interesting to note that several of the dancers are originally from other countries, and it was interesting to hear about their exposure to the production.

Inside the Directors Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker

Dancer Rick Porter, an Australian native, said his first introduction only happened four years ago since he did not experience it back home, but he’s found that it’s, as he put it, “a fun ballet.”

Nicole Haskins told a story about a video of her at 18 months old choreographing her own Sugar Plum Fairy dance, running to her dad. She has been performing as one character or another from the age of 9 to 18. Now, she says, there’s always something different at every role and every performance that keeps her performances fresh.

It was also a great experience to have dancers share their enthusiasm for dance, performing and their view on life. The dancers are very close to each other and their friendship is quite evident.

The audience learned that the dancers usually practice several hours a day until the day of the performance, and then they have to adjust as they practice later in the day for the evening performances.

Inside the Directors Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker

Besides rehearsals, the dancers have to apply stage makeup, make wardrobe changes and other adjustments in between dances. In essence, there are many things going on backstage that the dancers need to make allowances for and they all show camaraderie by helping other dancers when they can.

The audience was asked to look for the performance of the maids, as this was described as a fun role. The experiences of wearing the mouse or nutcracker heads and costumes were fascinating to listen to as well. Almost every aspect of what goes on backstage was discussed, and it’s remarkable how much goes on that the audience just doesn’t know about.

Inside the Directors Studio, Through the Dancer’s Eye: The Nutcracker

As I listened to the dancers share their stories, I remembered my introduction to “The Nutcracker” when I was 7, when I danced in a school production, and that memory has remained. Do you remember the first time you saw or participated in “The Nutcracker”?

Ron Cunningham’s “The Nutcracker,” with live score performed by the Sacramento Philharmonic, opens on Friday and runs through Dec. 23 at the Sacramento Community Center. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 808-5181.

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