By Joseph Steinauer, Dancer Blogger
A dancer’s feelings about the annual run of The Nutcracker are a lesson in duality. The experience is something like this: nearing exhaustion from the rigors of our fall production, we arrive at a point where the return to something familiar is both alluring and comforting. We welcome the shelter of a show that has stood the test of time, one in which we know what to expect and what is expected of us. Basically, we want to warm ourselves at the hearth of Nutcracker’s yuletide notoriety. But simultaneously, mixed in with those snug feelings, is dread. Dread of boredom. Dread of repetition. Dread of the inevitable mundanity that is sure to coalesce around show number, say, fourteen. And at that point we’re only halfway done. So as dancers, amid these contradictory emotions, our main concern becomes how do we keep this thing fresh?
Luckily for us, at The National Ballet of Canada, an assortment of burnout-bypassing tactics are at our disposal. First, being in a company of 70 dancers means there are multiple casts. For instance, on Wednesday I may dance the role of a Waiter and on Thursday I may be on as a Chocolate man. Parts are shared, sometimes between a handful of people. In the Waltz of the Flowers, my couple’s spot is shared by five different women and three healthcare administration programs men. This means I may dance the part with one partner towards the beginning of the run, switch partners in the middle, then do the last show with yet another different partner. Talk about keeping us, literally and figuratively, on our toes. Another way to keep us spirited is by casting us in new roles. This year one of my new roles is the Cannon Doll who, along with the help of two guest celebrities, initiates the battle scene by firing a cannon into the audience. Before we go on stage, it’s my job to mingle with the celebrities, explain to them the day-to-day life of a ballet dancer, and let them observe the orchestrated mayhem of the backstage crew. Meeting new people and seeing their reaction to the scale of our show makes each show unique for me (one of the guest celebrities, upon seeing the horse in the family scene come off stage, asked me what it’s like to work with live animals in a show. Yes, the costuming is that good!). Yet another way things are kept interesting during bulk candles our 26-show run, and a factor that is out of our control, is the occasional sickness or injury. It is highly probable that at some point a dancer will get sick or injured and have to miss a show. This means his or her sharer for that part will go on. Well, in the event that their sharer was also supposed to do another part in the same show, then that person’s sharer would fill in for them in that spot. And so on, and so on. This is the trickle-down effect and its scope can be far-reaching. Eventually, instead of enjoying that rare night off on your couch, eating
salad cookies and watching frozen movie reruns of “Mad Men”, you get a phone call saying they need you at the theatre as soon as possible.
So, all in all, keeping The Nutcracker alive and exciting all the way to the end isn’t as hard a task as you may think. We’re fortunate too that Tchaikovsky’s sonorous score is the closest thing to ballet pop music you can get. To this day, I still discover new intricacies within the music. There is one final, fail-safe strategy to be summoned should all of the above tactics flounder or boomerang. It is an ingredient so delicious on the unsatiated palate, so nutritious in its alimentary composition, that it can revitalize even the weariest of souls. It comes once each year, luckily for us, at the same time we do The Nutcracker. It’s called Christmas magic.
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The Nutcracker photos by by Bruce Zinger.