‘Nutcracker’ remains important tradition for ballerinas

December 9, 2017 — by Jessica Wang

Every December, ballet companies put on their own Christmas productions, traditionally “The Nutcracker.” In the story, a nutcracker, a young girl’s Christmas gift, comes alive and takes her on a magical Christmas journey.

For the dancers themselves, rehearsing for holiday ballets has not only helped them hone their skills but also allowed them to spend time with fellow dancers and maintain a special tradition.

One student participating in a performance this month is sophomore Alex Lee, who has a few roles in the Los Gatos Ballet’s production.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is a ballet that is really well known whether you've seen it or not, and it has become a tradition for many big companies,” Lee said. “Performing in it is basically hanging out with friends all day, creating memories and enjoying the art of dance. You get caught up in all the joy that you even forget about school while you're in the theater.”

Preparations for the December shows began in August, following auditions for larger roles starting from Level 7, where dancers are at least in eighth grade. Lee herself has played roles such as a soldier, a mouse and the lead gumdrop; this year, she will be performing as a soldierette doll and a marzipan side and as part of the Waltz of the Flowers and Snow.

Advanced dancers who have been participating in the Nutcracker often get a chance to perform the lead roles they have watched for many years from when they started dancing.

After 12 years of being a part of the Los Gatos Ballet show, senior Sarah Auches said she has had the opportunity to take on over 14 roles, starting from a cherub and soldier at age 5 to becoming the Russian Princess this year.

For the most part, dancers can anticipate which roles they will play, but in some cases, dancers are dissatisfied with their the roles for which they’ve been cast, Lee said.

Yet Auches has a different perspective on attitudes for lead roles.

“Even if people are worried about their roles, in the oldest levels particularly, we are all trying to support each other in what we achieve,” Auches said. “Roles are always going to be a part of performing in a ballet, but we love the production and we love dancing together, so there is a point where I think everyone realizes that being competitive with each other is just something that we don’t want to be.”

Most of the dancers spend around 15 to 20 hours a week on classes and rehearsals. As students and dancers, it is difficult to balance dedication to rehearsals and schoolwork, forcing them to skip dance classes occasionally to catch up on homework or study for major tests.

With all the commitment required, students who have participated in “The Nutcracker” for many years can measure their own progress.

The production is also important for audience members, many of whom make it an annual tradition to attend the ballet.

“Every year our ‘Nutcracker’ gets better, and our audience gets a different experience,” Lee said. “I think it's really inspiring for younger kids to see what we do because many of them who come to watch for their first time dream of becoming ballerinas. The younger kids love watching the magic happen on stage, and ‘The Nutcracker’ is one ballet that they can actually understand.”

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