Milwaukee Ballet apprentice Justin Genna Dishes on The Nutcracker

The first time 21-year-old Milwaukee Ballet apprentice Justin Genna saw The Nutcracker as an 8-year-old, he cried at intermission. But Justin was upset only because he thought the show was over and heJustin Genna headshot wanted to see more! "I remember my heart sinking as the curtain went down," he says. How far he's come! This year, in addition to dancing the Arabian pas de deux, he'll also be one of four Milwaukee Ballet company members (and the only apprentice!) performing the iconic role of Drosselmeyer. Justin gave DS the scoop on all things Nutcracker.

DS: Were you surprised to find out that you'd be playing Drosselmeyer, a feature role, this year?

Completely surprised, but extremely excited about it! I love the role, so getting a chance to put my own spin on it is exciting.

DS: What have you done to prepare for the role?

[Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director] Michael Pink is very big on theater, stage presence and the interaction of characters. He worked with me quite extensively on the development of the character and how I wanted to play Drosselmeyer. We're trying to work on a Drosselmeyer that's a little more dark and mysterious, but still loving. When I saw the show as a kid, that character held so much power. To see this man who can wield magic, you have respect for him. But he never shows you everything--it's just a glimpse. We tried to bring a little Mad Hatter or the Riddler into it.

DS: You're only in your second season with Milwaukee Ballet and you're one of two apprentices with a featured role in The Nutcracker. What advice do you have for young dancers who want to stand out?

If you want something, putting in the work is absolutely necessary. Go above and beyond because you'll never stop amazing yourself. I never thought when I was younger that I'd be here. You're capable of a lot more than you think you are.

DS: Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?

We love to play our music really loud in the dressing room and run around in the hallways, screaming the music at the top of our lungs to get our morale up. It's like a mini-party before the show to get the energy running in our bodies. You're always in a good mood after that.

DS: What's your favorite part of the holiday season?

Being with my family. They're the strongest rock in my life and have been there for me since day one. I love being around them.

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