Meet the Claras of the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular"
Think the Rockettes are the only stars of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular? Think again. Each year, a few lucky girls share the role of Clara, who appears during the Nutcracker portion of the show. Clara gets to do some real dancing, too, including solos and pas de deux. (Past Claras include Juliet Doherty and Tiler Peck!)
Dance Spirit sat down with this year's three Claras—Emerson Alexander, JoseBella Morton, and Rachel Quiner, all 12 years old—to find out what it takes to play Clara in the Spectacular, and the best parts of sharing the stage with the world's most iconic precision dance company.
What's your favorite part of performing Clara in the Christmas Spectacular?
Emerson Tate Alexander: My favorite part is at the end of my dance when I strike my final pose sitting on the bear prince's shoulder, and I hear the crowd erupt. It's such an amazing feeling!
JosaBella Morton: Dancing on the stage of Radio City Music Hall is magical. My favorite part starts at the very beginning of the Nutcracker scene. The moment I "wake up," I try to captivate the attention of each audience member in hopes that they feel the same Christmas magic I feel at that very moment.
Rachel Quiner: I love looking out into the audience as the Nutcracker scene is just beginning. It's magical to see the lights shine down on the stage.
What are some of the challenges you've had to overcome for this role?
Emerson: Dancing on a non-traditional dance floor and having a really tall dance partner. The stage at Radio City Music Hall is wood and steel, and my dance partner is a huge bear!
JosaBella: One of the biggest challenges for me is the flooring. I'm used to dancing on a marley, so during the shows, I've added a small piece of rubber at the tip of my pointe shoes to keep from slipping.
Rachel: The first year I performed in the Christmas Spectacular as Clara, I was 10 years old. I didn't have much partnering experience and struggled to master the finger turn with the bear prince.
Emerson Alexander performing in the "Nutcracker" scene of the "Christmas Spectacular" (courtesy Madison Square Garden)
Do you still get nervous before you go onstage? If so, what do you do to calm your nerves?
Emerson: Yes! But prior to the show, I review the choreography and remind myself that I am fully prepared for the dance.
JosaBella: For the first few shows I felt really nervous, but I don't get as nervous now. Often I meditate in the wings while the Rockettes perform their "Twelve Days of Christmas number" which is right before my Nutcracker number.
Rachel: I don't get too nervous anymore. The Christmas Spectacular team does a great job preparing you for the role. Once you rehearse the steps and are comfortable with the choreography, it's fun to just go onstage and dance for the audience!
What have you enjoyed about performing with the Rockettes?
Emerson: The Rockettes are an unbelievable family of amazingly talented women who are super kind and friendly! They are wonderful role models.
JosaBella: I love the Rockettes! They bring the best energy onstage, offstage, in the wings, and throughout all of Radio City Music Hall. I've enjoyed making friends with them, too. They'll often leave good luck messages in my dressing room. Sometimes when we're on stage together or in the wings, we'll make funny faces or create little handshakes.
Rachel: The Rockettes are really nice and so inspiring! They work super hard and are very supportive of the Claras. During dress rehearsals, they always cheer for us in the Nutcracker scene.
JosaBella Morton dances Clara in the "Christmas Spectacular" (courtesy M.S.G.)
How do you keep things fresh when performing the same role over and over?
Emerson: I know that every show is special because the audience is never the same. I want the person in the front row to enjoy the show just as much as the person in the rear of the balcony.
JoseBella: I continuously try to push myself to be better with each new show.
Rachel: I enjoy performing as Clara. Even though this is my third year of dancing the role in nearly 70 shows, I never get tired of it. I see each performance as a fresh opportunity to brighten someone's day.
Dance-wise, what have you learned from performing as Clara?
Emerson: I've learned multiple partnering techniques that I'll use for future performances.
JoseBella: "Teamwork makes the dream work!" Being part of such a large and amazing cast and crew has taught me that you have to work together and be supportive of one another.
Rachel: I'm working on mastering consistency in my performances, which will help me in the future. When I feel tired or am having an off day, I try to push through it to deliver a great performance.
The 2017 Claras (from left): Emerson Alexander, Rachel Quiner, and JosaBella Morton (courtesy Rachel Quiner)
If you were to give advice to next year's cast of Claras, what would you say?
Emerson: I would say…congratulations! This will be an amazing experience. Do what you love and love what you do.
JoseBella: Take it all in! Work hard. Be yourself. Live each day thankful that you get to be here and dance on this amazing stage. It has truly been an honor and dream come true to play Clara in the Christmas Spectacular.
Rachel: Don't take a single moment for granted. Soak up every second of the experience. It all goes by so fast. I've made such wonderful friendships with the cast and crew of the Christmas Spectacular and I dearly love each one of my Clara sisters from these past three years!
In our "Dear Katie" series, MCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
I'm 14 and have been studying ballet seriously for about three years. Even though I feel ready, my teachers haven't put me on pointe yet. Am I doing something wrong? Should I ask them about it, or is it pointe-less?
Samantha Figgins is currently in her fifth season with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (and was a Dance Spirit cover girl back in 2013!). But what many people don't know is that the gorgeous dancer suffers from single-sided deafness. As a baby, Figgins contracted spinal meningitis, which caused her to lose all hearing in her right ear. She never gave up on her dance dreams, though, and fought her way through uncomfortable situations, never missing an opportunity to learn and grow. Now, after getting her first pair of hearing aids, she opens up about her path to success. —(As told to Courtney Celeste Spears)
Sara Esty's ethereal grace and sophisticated charm have won over ballet and Broadway audiences alike. The bunhead-turned-Broadway-baby began training near her hometown in Gorham, ME, at the Maine State Ballet's School for the Performing Arts (with her equally fabulous twin sister, Leigh-Ann). She enrolled full-time at the Miami City Ballet School in 2004, and joined Miami City Ballet as an apprentice in 2005. In 2006, Esty won the Princess Grace Award, and she was promoted to soloist at MCB in 2011. After leaving MCB in 2014, she made her Broadway debut in An American in Paris as the understudy for Lise, and went on to share the role of Lise with her sister on the show's national tour. Most recently, she was seen in 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Marie, Dancing Still in Seattle, WA. —Courtney Bowers