'The Nutcracker' – Dancers' Stories

What would you do if you were dancing in the Snow scene of ‘The Nutcracker,’ and it started snowing M&Ms instead of snowflakes?  Sooner or later, almost every dancer in America performs in The Nutcracker, and almost everyone has at least one Nutcracker story! We asked American Midwest Ballet’s dancers to reflect on their funny or memorable moments from Nutcrackers past, and what’s special about the roles they will be dancing this year…
Erin Alarcón

My first production of The Nutcracker was when I was twelve years old. I was lucky to appear as Clara in that Nutcracker and it is an experience I will always cherish.

However, my most memorable role in The Nutcracker growing up was when I had to step in and perform the grandmother in the Party scene. I loved seeing myself in the full costume complete with wig, spectacles, and make-up. I had such a fun time figuring out how a grandmother would dance!

Two of the roles that I will be performing this year in The Nutcracker are Spanish and the Dew Drop Fairy. I’m very excited to perform Spanish because I love being able interact with other dancers on stage. It feels great to be dancing such lively and stylized steps with my friends.

The Dew Drop Fairy is a new role for me but one that I have always looked forward to performing. The Waltz of the Flowers music is among my favorite music in all of The Nutcracker. I’m so glad that the choreography for Dew Drop allows me to enjoy all of its intricacies and surprises.

Matthew Carter (seen here as the Cavalier, with Natasha Grimm as the Sugar Plum Fairy) once got bombarded with French fries and M&Ms during a performance.

Matthew Carter

This year I will be dancing the roles of a Father in the Party scene, the Nutcracker in the Battle scene, one of the male dancers in the Snow scene, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier, and the male Arabian dancer. Each role is fun for different reasons.

The Battle Scene is very intense, and my choreography with the Rat Queen is very athletic, so it’s always fun to dance that portion. The snow scene is extremely beautiful with some of the best music in the show, so I’ve always loved that part of The Nutcracker. I love dancing as the Cavalier because it’s the part of the second Act where the action and “glitz” calms down to focus on a wonderful, classical pas de deux with the quintessential ballerina and her partner…

As a child, I performed as Fritz, a mouse, Mouse King, the Nutcracker, Russian dancer, Spanish dancer, Chinese dancer, a doll. Since I’ve been in The Nutcracker in various places and stages in my life over the past 25 years, I’ve danced almost every role in the production, except Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy, of course!

A few of my most interesting memories of The Nutcracker:

Once, in Pennsylvania, the orchestra light blew a fuse during a live performance. I was inside an enormous Nutcracker head during the Battle scene. The orchestra stopped playing, but I didn’t know exactly what had happened at first, since hearing and vision are muffled inside those things! I thought maybe I’d gone deaf or something! I kept going. We completed the Battle scene in silence; the fuse was fixed before the Snow Queen’s entrance, and the dancers saved the day!

I was also performing in a “cafetorium” (school auditorium/cafeteria) once in California. We had began our Snow pas de deux when M&M’s and french fries started falling on our heads! Apparently the janitor had put the lunch sweepings in the wrong container! It’s hard to remain glamorous in that sort of situation, but we did.

In another production, I was the Prince sitting with Clara in the throne for Act II. There were little Pages who sat on the throne steps during Act II and departed after the Waltz of the Flowers. One little girl had forgotten to switch her position during the Act, so when she got up to leave her legs had fallen asleep and she couldn’t walk straight. She wobbled, grasped the back drop, and did other crazy movements before the Dew Drop Fairy came back out and helped her off the stage…

There are so many, but those are few…

Teresa Coulter

I have been in a few Nutcrackers. I’ve performed Chinese and French variations, Snow and Flower scenes, and have even been a party boy!

This year I am one of the Party Moms, a Snowflake, Chinese, and Flower. As Party Mom, I get to play more of a character and act more. Snowflake is one of my favorite roles because I love the choreography and the whimsy of the piece. For Chinese, I get to do a short variation as part of the Land of the Sweets. This role is fun and comical, but so fast sometimes! In the Waltz of the Flowers I dance in the Flower corps. This role is especially difficult because the corps must dance with precision and in unison, but in the end it is very rewarding when it all comes together.

The role of the Rat Queen gives Claire Goodwillie a chance to indulge her relish for playing evil characters.

Claire Goodwillie

I have been in The Nutcracker almost every year since I was six. I loved playing Clara because it involved quite a bit of acting, and I got to stay onstage the whole time.

I have played a variety of children’s roles, from Powder Puff, Party Girl, Ribbon Candy and Sailor, eventually graduating to company-level corps de ballet roles in Flower and Snow scenes. This will be my fourteenth Nutcracker.

This year, I share the role of Rat Queen, a Snowflake, the Chinese Lead, the French Lead, and also appear as a demi-soloist in Waltz of the Flowers.

The Rat Queen is a very interesting role because of the acting and characterization that is required. It is very fun. I love playing evil characters!

Snow, Chinese, French, and Flowers all require that you change the way you move slightly in order to match the music for each piece. The French variation music is very prim and proper, so you have to make your movements very ladylike, while Chinese is very bubbly and fast-paced. It’s definitely a challenge to change from one role to another! And of course, no matter what role you play, you have to constantly be thinking about your technique!

Natasha Grimm

I’m the Snow Queen. This role is great because the music is beautiful. The dancing is light and airy like snow flakes falling from the sky. It also has a lot of accents in the dancing that match the music, which makes it a lot more interesting to watch as well as dance!

I am also Arabian. This is a fun role because I get to be powerful and mysterious like an Arabian Queen. It’s more slow and sensual than the other characters in The Nutcracker. This variation is all about the arm placement and eyes! I always imagine a rattlesnake moving through the sand of the driest desert!

The Sugar Plum Fairy is the queen of the Land of the Sweets. This role is especially fun because I acts as Clara’s guide through all the different lands! I dance a pas de deux with the cavalier just for Clara in celebration. Also, I bring all of the other characters in for the grand finale… leaving Clara’s mind spinning and racing with all the excitement of the dancers… resulting in Clara awakening by the Christmas tree with her Nutcracker doll.

I did perform in The Nutcracker as a child. I was an “Icicle Maiden” hanging from a swing. We were above the curtains staring at the lights for 10 minutes. They slowly lowered us down above all the dancing snow flakes heads, sprinkling snow as they turned on leaped on stage! I was the “Toy Doll” in the party scene, coming to life and dancing for all the children after they wound me up! I was a maid in the party scene, a party parent, a “dancing snow flake” in the Flower Corps, a Spanish señorita, Arabian, Marzipan “butterfly catcher” and a double as “Clara’s mother” at the end of the finale, waking her up and telling her everything was okay!

Alberto Liberatoscioli enjoys the style and flair of the Russian variation.

Alberto Liberatoscioli

When I danced my first Nutcracker, I was about 20 years old and danced the Russian variation. In Europe The Nutcracker is just another ballet among many others, even though it has always been a favorite of mine for the colorful, passionate music and the simple, classic storyline. The Nutcracker does not have the fame and relevance in Europe as it does in the United States.

This year I’ll dance in Spanish and Russian variations, as well as the Snow scene – and also new this year as Santa Claus and Drosselmeyer. What makes the roles interesting for me is that in this company, I felt for the first time that the choreography in the variations were created to showcase my skills and strengths — not just because there was an empty spot to fill!

I like Spanish and Russian because the characters match my style as a dancer — Spanish is colorful and warm; Russian is energetic, proud and showy. Santa Claus is pleasing to the kids. I am excited to dance Drosselmeyer for the very first time.

Mandy Lock

I actually didn’t perform in The Nutcracker as a child, but in high school the student company of the ballet school I attended traveled to various elementary schools throughout the Kansas City community performing the Act II divertissements as part of its outreach efforts.

In those productions I had several roles ranging from everything from Candy Cane to Arabian Dancer to Dew Drop to Sugar Plum Fairy. Regardless of the role, I always had a lot of fun with the productions.

This year I am a Party Parent, a Snowflake, one of the Chinese characters, and a Flower. I think the most interesting aspect of this ballet for me is the variety of characterization. It’s fun to be able to transform from the flitting Snowflake (my favorite role in this version) to the quirky sharpness of the Chinese divertissement, all in the same production.

Andrea Mason

In American Midwest Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, I play Mrs. Claus in the North Pole, a Chinese dancer, a Party Mom, a Flower in Waltz of the Flowers, and a Snowflake. I enjoy playing such diverse parts because it challenges me and keeps the ballet very interesting. I have a great time playing Mrs. Claus. I have never seen this role in any other Nutcrackers, so I am able to make my rendition of the character very personal. I also enjoy performing Chinese because I find the choreography so much fun. There is a lot going on in that part, so I think it will be really cool for the audience to watch.

I was able to perform in The Nutcracker many times during my time as a young dancer in St. Louis. In St. Louis Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker, I played roles such as Party Girl, Soldier, Candy Cane, and Russian. I love the tradition that comes with The Nutcracker.  It brings back great childhood memories for me!

Erika Overturff

The Nutcracker was my very first ballet. I performed as a toy soldier and I loved every second of it. I don’t know if I’ve ever smiled so hard.

One of the wonderful things about The Nutcracker is there are so many featured roles. It’s a great way to let the dancers shine.

One of my favorite rehearsals to conduct is the Battle scene. We have a lot of fun with it. Our Rat Queen is pretty vicious with her attacks on the Nutcracker — it’s exciting and we always have a few laughs in rehearsal!

The mice don’t just chase Clara around a little- they drag her, spin her, hoist her above their heads, pull her hair, flip her. Our sweet little Claras are always exhausted!

Bret Samson

I was in The Nutcracker as a child. I danced with mostly smaller companies, so I got to perform almost every character at some point!

One of the roles I am performing this year is in the Chinese variation, which is one of the very few Nutcracker roles I have not already performed. In past companies, the Chinese variation roles were usually cast with much shorter dancers, and I am a little taller. This role is fun for me because I have to make my movements very small and quick… and it is always fun to dance a role I have never played before.

Kelsey Schwenker

I performed in The Nutcracker from ages 10 through 17 and again in college. I started as a party girl, a jester and other roles. When I was 14, I performed the role of Clara. After that, I was promoted to all the corps roles and some variations with the company members. It was such a thrill and a learning experience to dance with professionals at a young age.

Two of my bigger roles are Rat Queen and Shepherdess (French variation). When I was growing up, my company had a Rat Queen too, as opposed to a Rat King. I love this sort of role reversal. Who says that a woman can’t be the ultimate villain! Sometimes it is so much fun to play evil characters. It allows you to tap into a different side of yourself and perform in a way that you might not get to on a regular basis.

The French variation, which is also called Marzipan or Mirliton in other productions, is a Shepherdess in our Nutcracker.  I have been in this divertissement five times out of nine Nutcrackers. This one is different and more fun because I get to interact with my baby lambs!  It is always fun to have community children in our productions because they add another level of lively exuberance to the stage!

Denis Vezetiu

This ballet is not done as often in Europe, so the first time I performed in The Nutcracker was only after I graduated from the ballet academy where I received my training in Moldova. I danced as Soldier in the battle scene and in the Russian and Chinese variations.

In American Midwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker, I am the Jack-in-the-Box doll that brings fun and happiness to the children at the party. I am excited to do this role because the choreography features a lot of jumps and tricks that I love to do. I am also the Nutcracker in the Battle scene where I fight the Rat Queen to save Clara. I also dance the Spanish variation and the Cavalier role, which includes the pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Sasha York

As a child, I never got a chance to perform in The Nutcracker. In fact, I don’t even think I saw the a production of The Nutcracker until I was about 15 or 16 years old.

One of my roles in this year’s Nutcracker is the Russian variation, which involves a lot of fun jumps and turns. I am originally from Russia, but I have never had a chance to perform this role before now. The music is really upbeat and just makes you want to get up and dance. I can’t wait to get up on stage and have some fun with my jumps and turns and let my real personality show!

As a child, Angela Zolczynski (seen here as the Dew Drop Fairy) didn't give up on getting into 'The Nutcracker,' even after missing out on her first three tries.

Angela Zolczynski

As a child, it took me three tries to make it into The Nutcracker. So when I finally made it, I was cast as Snowflake, Spanish, and Flower, which are company-level roles. I think that is why I secretly want to be in the Battle scene because I never had a chance to do any children’s roles.

Snow is one of my favorite scenes in The Nutcracker. I love the music. At times it is soft and beautiful like a gentle snowfall — and then turns into a raging, pounding blizzard at the end. I love dancing when the snow starts to fall on stage.

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