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Our Nutcracker
I had a small studio, in a small town. We usually had around 250 to 300 students. I choreographed the full Nutcracker with parts for dancers and non dancers.
I loved putting on the Nutcracker.
I had a small studio, in a small town. We usually had around 250 to 300 students. I choreographed the full Nutcracker with parts for dancers and non dancers.
We invited 2 year old little sisters to be dressed as Cherubs and were brought on stage in cloud covered wagons with the little Angels. All they had to do was sit in the wagon and smile. They loved it, the audience loved it, and they all couldn't wait to sign up for dance when they turned 3. For music, we just used a Symphony Orchestra CD of the Nut.

Choreographing and directing the Nutcracker Ballet will always be one of my most cherished memories. We bought two professionally designed and painted backdrops for the Stahlbahm’s, home, in Act One, and for Sugar Plum’s Palace in Act Two. We bought canvas and painted the snow scene. Our local high school’s art teacher, designed and made our beautiful Nutcracker head. The music teacher designed our rolling sleigh, and growing Christmas tree.
I really enjoyed getting to know some of the parents better, working together to get the Nutcracker on stage. We had an abundance of volunteers willing to share their talents and skills to help make our Nutcracker Ballet a success. We broke even each year by selling ads for the program and selling refreshments. Any profit was spent on the Cast and Crew Party. We rented a hall , catered a meal and had a DJ for dancing and entertainment. We didn’t charge a participation fee. In light of the extra hard work and extra long studio hours, some kind of fee would have been accepted and helpful. But, because so many wonderful people were donating their time and talents to make my ballet a success, I decided to donate my time as well.
While I didn’t receive any extra revenue from the ballet itself, I did receive a major return on investment (ROI) . We saw an immediate and substantial increase in enrollment in January. Our phone seemed to never stop ringing with calls of interest in our program. Each fall, our enrollment grew with children who had been in the Nutcracker audience.
Less measurable and of more value , was the joy we saw in the children in the show and in the audience. The response of the audience and kind comments was a boost to all of us. It helped us begin the new year with a better sense of who we were, and renewed our belief in the value of what we do.
I was fortunate, in that I had an amazing team of dedicated dance teachers. They shared the vision, the labor, and added their own stamp to the finished results. They helped teach my choreography and performed many of the lead dance roles. This went beyond a collaborative effort. It was a labor of love and each person was equally important and necessary.
The audition process can be difficult. There are always a few parent’s who over-estimate their child’s skill level and try various methods to get them into certain, coveted roles. Once the auditions were over and roles were cast, it became much easier. We had tiny, cute little mice . They were even more adorable when they tried to act fierce and scare Clara. Our toy soldiers were cute little boys (maybe a few girls). You can imagine the battle between our little soldiers and mice was pure fun! We did have a horrible, cruel, arrogant, self absorbed Mouse King. His part was danced by an advanced ballet dancer with skills matching our Nutcracker. We didn’t kill our Mouse King. We did ,however, rough him up a bit and sent him packing. He did survive the battle he started, Beaten and bruised, he slowly got back to his feet and limped off stage with the help of sad, but still adorable, tiny minions. :) While this was appreciated by most of the onlookers, there were some little boys in the audience who seemed disappointed. I heard a couple little voices yell “stick him! stick him!” during the sword fight.
I wrote a little narrative to help guide the audience through the story, which was read my one of the dads, and once by an actor friend. For a couple years, a dad with an awesome British accent read the script, adding an extra touch of elegance to the evening. A couple of my ballet friends initially hated the idea of adding narration to a ballet. But, upon attending one of our performances, even they were won over by the effect. The narrative was brief, but enough to set a scene, or describe an action, helping clarify the storyline in places where pantomime skills might be limited.
With any production, there are funny and memorable things that occur through the natural course of events. Since there were too many to add here, I will mention only one and the save the rest for another blog. After the dust had settled from auditions and dancers (and dance moms) had accepted their roles, one very nice dance mom asked for an appointment to see me privately. When she walked into my office, I could see she was deeply concerned about something. She told me her daughter was very upset with having to be in the Waltz of the Flowers again. The mother said her child complained that it was the SAME choreography, the SAME music, and that she already KNEW it. The mother suggested that if I would re choreograph the Nutcracker each year, and maybe use some different music; perhaps her daughter and others would be more excited about being in the ballet. Considering that this was a very nice, considerate, and usually quite timid individual and this daughter (her oldest) had just turned 13, I knew I had to treat this gently. She also told me that while she loved my choreography, it couldn’t hurt to make it different each year, to keep it fresh for the kids. She had no concept of how long it took to choreograph the full length Nutcracker in the first place. I explained to her how I hoped to expand the student’s appreciation of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful and timeless music along with the art of dance. If I substituted teen approved popular music, we would at the very least be lowering the standard to appeal to their present level of experience. One of my goals was to help them stretch and grow beyond what their present tastes in music might be. We talked further how the teen age years can be difficult for both the children and their parents. I told her I hoped her daughter would decide to stay in the ballet as Waltz of the Flowers needed good dancers. Everything ended well with the child staying in the Nutcracker and developing after many more years into a very strong dancer with a love for classical music. Score! :)