A dancer’s perspective on being in the Nutcracker

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Alexis Gardner


This past weekend the Radford University Ballet Theatre put on an outstanding production of the classical ballet of The Nutcracker. I am more than proud to say that I was able to be part of this production. Growing up as a dancer, it is almost a rite of passage being in The Nutcracker, but once you get to college it is not guaranteed. I was not in The Nutcracker my freshman year and this year, my junior year, I was casted into it. I did have had the biggest role, but I was ok with that.

Being in The Nutcracker this year made me think of everything that goes into a production such as this one, that most people don’t know about. As a dancer, I feel like we have a totally different perspective on what it is like being in The Nutcracker, that an audience has no one idea about.

First, it starts off with the rehearsals. Even though I did not have the biggest part (I was a big mouse), it still required rehearsal time. We were informed of the role we would be on October 16, and rehearsals for the show started the very next day. Some people had rehearsal six days a week for a few hours, others more or less. On average, I had rehearsal about 4 days a week. That is until tech week, but I will talk about tech week later.

The first couple of rehearsals were spent learning the choreography in the studio and spacing it. After those first couple of days, whenever we had rehearsal we were just running the dance a couple of times and then leaving. Sometimes we got out of rehearsal late, sometimes we got out early. Either way, we had to be there because we only had 25 days to put on a full production.

Tech week started on November 5. and it went until the day before opening night which was November 11. The tech week hours are long, even longer if you are in act two. I was only in act one so my call time for tech rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday were at 1 p.m. and 12:45 p.m. Tech rehearsals were held in Preston and they are mainly so we can space our dances on stage, and so the tech crew and stage crew can do things like run the music, set the lights, and move props. On average I was in tech rehearsal anywhere from 2-4 hours. The closer we go to opening night, the longer we would be there.

Wednesday and Thursday were dress rehearsal days. During those days we had to be to Preston by 4:15 p.m., and then start warm up at around 5:00 p.m. The time between 4:15-5:00 p.m. was mainly for dancers to start putting their make up on, getting their hair ready, and organizing their costumes. I did not really have to worry about hair or make up, so I used that time to get some of my homework done. Whenever we had any “free” time during rehearsal, I and many other dancers, used that time for homework.

So from 5:00-6:00 p.m. we would be warming up onstage with a ballet class. There were a lot of us and the stage is big, but it is not that big. We did had some ballet barres, but we had to bring chairs on the stage in order to accommodate everyone. During barre, we would all be kicking while doing certain combinations, and yeah it would be frustrating at times, but it was all just part of the process. After warm up, sometimes some dancers will have to stay to work on spacing for their dance, and the rest would go back to the dressing room to finish getting ready.

The dressing rooms are filled with lots hairspray, bobby pins, laughter, and running around. The dancers who were in the beginning of the show (the Party Scene) were the ones who needed to be ready first. And once they are on stage, the actual dress rehearsal begins. The show is supposed to be run like it is the real deal, without any stops. Things are not always as easy as it seems though.

Since I and most of my other cast mates only had our one part to do, after we do it we all usually leave unless told otherwise. Well Thursday night we went to leave after doing our part, and I had been in my apartment for about five minutes before I get a text message at 7:53 p.m., saying I needed to come back. There were new lighting cues and we had to run the section I was in to make sure they looked good on stage. My cast mates and I came back and it was not until about 9:00 p.m. when we actually ran the dance with the new lighting cues. It was unexpected yes, but it was just another part of what goes in to putting on a show like The Nutcracker.

Everything we do behind the scenes helps produce what the audience sees on stage, and I honestly did not even mention everything. It does not happen in one or two days, it takes time, energy, and commitment. And although the rehearsal hours seemed long at times, and I was there late at night, I would not trade the experience for anything in world. Opening night was great, I love to dance and I love performing on stage. Every show was different, and I enjoyed performing in every single one of them.