A Tale of Two Nutcrackers
Top: Balanchine's swirling snowstorm at NYCB (Paul Kolnik); bottom: Ratmansky's menacing snowflakes at ABT (Erin Baiano)
Ah, Nutcracker season. Sure, as a dancer it's pretty much a nightmare. But as an audience member—especially in dance-stuffed NYC—it's a dream come true. There are umpteen Nuts running in the Big Apple right now, and I can't get enough of them.
This weekend, I did a Nutcracker double-header, catching American Ballet Theatre's version (by Alexei Ratmansky) on Friday night and New York City Ballet's production (by George Balanchine) on Saturday. They both get the important things right: They create beautiful, enchanting worlds onstage; they include real challenges for incredible dancers; and, most importantly, they're magical. Listening to the reactions of the kids around me as the trees grew and the snow fell was, as always, half the fun.
But in a way, these two productions couldn't be more different.
I love Balanchine's first act because it lets children behave the way they actually behave. Outside of the formal party dances, he doesn't give the young'uns much dance-y choreography. Instead, they run and skip and stomp around in a way that looks totally authentic. His snow scene is wonderfully realistic, too: He creates swirling, sweeping patterns that mimic snow falling. (I also have to give a shout-out to Lauren Lovette, who danced a gorgeous, regal Sugar Plum on Saturday night.)
Ratmansky, on the other hand, shows us what childhood feels like, rather than what it looks like. His Clara does more dancing, but that dancing is a way of expressing her inner world. His heroine isn't the Sugar Plum Fairy: it's the grown-up Clara, who dances the traditional Sugar Plum pas with her grown-up Nutcracker Prince. And yet it's clear that this is the young Clara's imagining of herself as an adult, because her ballerina counterpart still dances young. Halfway through her solo, for example, she runs offstage—only to peek out at us playfully from the wings. Ratmansky's snowflakes, too, don't necessarily move the way snow moves. Instead, he makes them into characters, who initially befriend Clara and the Nutcracker Prince but later attack them in a blinding blizzard.
I usually have pretty strong opinions about dance performances, but when it comes to these two wonderful Nutcrackers, I can't pick a favorite. I'm just thankful they're both here, inspiring new generations of ballerinas-to-be.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
If you're in need of a piece that's both trendy and sophisticated, look no further than this Só Dança crop top. Featuring elegant long sleeves, a high neckline, and a delicate lace trim, it's both classic and contemporary—perfect for everything from that big audition to a long night in the studio. Enter below for your chance to win it!
Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.
There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.
Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.