Every year around December, Nutcracker fever descends on the entire dance community. (Symptoms include blisters, lack of sleep, and Tchaikovsky's "March from Act I" playing in your head for days on end.) Nevertheless, the beloved holiday production holds a special place in dancers' hearts, especially because it offers a chance to revisit favorite roles or take on challenging new ones. In fact, over the course of their career, a single dancer might dance upwards of a dozen parts in the ubiquitous ballet.
Dance Spirit asked four professional ballet dancers—i.e., long-time Nutcracker all-stars—to share their entire Nutcracker histories, as well as their favorite memories and mishaps. Read on for our new favorite holiday tradition: "My Nutcracker Resumé."
Miami City Ballet dancers in the snow scene in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" (Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Miami City Ballet
Ella Titus' "Nutcracker" Resumé
Corps de ballet, Miami City Ballet
Miami City Ballet's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker
2011–14: Chinese Tea
2015: Maid, Snowflake, Flower, Spanish
2016: Maid, Grandma, Columbine, Snowflake, Flower, Spanish
2017–19: Maid, Columbine, Snowflake, Flower, Spanish, Marzipan
Nutcracker mishap: "My second year as Marie, the Prince got my crown stuck in the netting of the scenery, so he walked up to my bed to wake me up with an 'invisible' crown."
Nutcracker memories: "I remember watching MCB principal Jeanette Delgado as the Sugarplum Fairy when I was Marie and thinking, 'This is what I want to do with my life!' "
The role that got away: "Since I'm still early on in my career, I don't feel that any role has 'gotten away' from me yet. I'm still growing as a dancer and try to improve every season! I know this sounds cliché, but I would love to dance the Sugarplum Fairy because I think it really showcases each dancer's personality."
Dylan Wald as the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier with Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Leah Merchant in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" (Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Dylan Wald's "Nutcracker" Resumé
Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet
The Nutcracker–The Rat King, 2007
Loyce Houlton's Nutcracker Fantasy, 2010–12, Minnesota Dance Theatre
The Stowell and Sendak Nutcracker, 2013–14, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Masque Mouse King (pas de trois)
Fight Scene Nutcracker
George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, 2015–18, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Lead Hot Chocolate
Sugarplum Fairy's Cavalier
The Nutcracker, 2018, Lafayette Ballet TheatreNutcracker Prince
Wald as a Party Parent in 2010 (courtesy Wald)
Nutcracker mishap: "The Nutcracker and I didn't get off to the best start. I was 11, and a new production of The Nutcracker was going to be presented in my hometown. They needed children to supplement the show, and came to my studio. There would be professional dancers, a live orchestra, and it was going to occur at an historic opera house in Minneapolis, MN. We soon realized this occasion wasn't all it was cracked up to be (pun intended). By the time we got to the stage, there didn't seem to be any props, sets, or costumes, and some of the dances themselves were not yet completed. The performance week culminated in large amounts of volunteering from parents and kids to pull together the show by completing divertissement choreography, buying costumes, and discovering a large ladder backstage to play the part of the growing Christmas tree. It was an experience I don't think any of us, or the audience, will ever forget."
The role that got away: "My first year as a corps dancer with PNB corresponded with the first year the company was presenting George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Having watched the version featuring Macaulay Culkin on VHS growing up, I was excited. I had been cast to learn all sorts of new roles that year, including Father, Toy Soldier, Mouse King, Hot Chocolate, Mother Ginger and Cavalier. One day my name was added in red ink to learn Drosselmeyer. I hadn't thought of my 19-year-old self as being that magical uncle I had observed for years. However, I was excited for the potential of working on and developing the character. In the last minutes of my first (and only) rehearsal, I was asked to perform the iconic 'crack the walnut with the Nutcracker, give it to the party kids' moment at the party scene. I believe I performed this gesture about three times, rubbed my belly, and the rehearsal ended. Immediately following that rehearsal, Peter Boal informed me I was no longer going to be learning Drosselmeyer. Perhaps I will get another crack at the part one day."
Stephanie Williams (far right) and fellow American Ballet Theatre dancers pose in costume for the Nutcracker's Sisters dance in Alexei Ratmansky's "The Nutcracker" (courtesy Williams)
Stephanie Williams' "Nutcracker" Resumé
Corps de ballet, American Ballet Theatre
Nutcracker–The Story of Clara, by Graeme Murphy, 2000, The Australian Ballet
Nutcracker–The Story of Clara, by Graeme Murphy, 2009, The Australian Ballet
The Nutcracker, by Sir Peter Wright, 2010, The Australian Ballet
Snowflakes (corps, soloist)
Flowers (corps, soloist)
The Nutcracker, by Alexei Ratmansky, 2012–19, American Ballet Theatre
Nutcracker memories: "My first 'professional' work as a dancer was as a child extra in The Australian Ballet's Nutcracker–The Story of Clara, by Graeme Murphy. This was such an incredible experience to rehearse and dance alongside the artists of The Aussie Ballet. I was just a child with stars in my eyes, feeling so lucky to be onstage with my idols. I'll never forget being in the greenroom at the Sydney Opera House, watching these larger-than-life men in Rat costumes playing snooker during intermission!"
"I came full circle years later, when, as a coryphée of The Australian Ballet, I performed a number of roles in the same ballet. It was very special to look at these young kids who were that season's crop of child extras and see how far I'd come."
The role that got away: "I danced many roles in Sir Peter Wright's version of The Nutcracker. I always wanted to dance the Rose Fairy but didn't get the chance. She wears one of the most beautiful tutus I've ever seen, and her choreography has a sweeping freedom to it that I dreamt of feeling."
Whitney Jensen performing the Arabian dance in "The Nutcracker" with Norwegian National Ballet principal Silas Henriksen (Erik Berg, courtesy Jensen)
Whitney Jensen's "Nutcracker" Resumé
Principal, Norwegian National Ballet
The Nutcracker, Kevin McKenzie, Jaqueline College School of Ballet, 2000-02
Radio City Christmas Spectacular, NYC, 2003-4
The Nutcracker, Tamàs Solymosi and Wayne Eagling, Hungarian National Ballet, 2008
Guest artist Clara
The Nutcracker, by Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet, 2009-2014
Flower (corps, demi-soloist)
Corps snow flake
Sugar plum fairy
The Nutcracker, Norwegian National Ballet, 2016–present day
Nutcracker memories: "One of my favorites roles was the Doll in Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. We got to dance a bit robotically, and it was technically a challenge, even though it was so short. Plus, if you were lucky it occasionally was the only thing you danced in the show, which meant you were done before the first act finished!"
The role that got away: "As a kid, I always wanted to be a polichinelle—one of the girls under Mother Ginger's skirt! But I never got to be in that dance."