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.
Here at DS HQ, we're more than ready to be kicking off a new month (please please please tell us that March is going to finally bring us some warmer temperatures and pretty flowers...please?) and, fittingly, a brand-new issue!
The March issue of Dance Spirit is our annual Ballet Issue, and how lovely is this prima-in-the-making on the cover?
A little backstory...
I have been obsessed with Juliet Doherty for years. I saw her perform the role of Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and I fell hard for her gorgeous facility, sweet smile and perky onstage personality. At the time, Juliet was a competition dancer training at Fishback Studio of the Dance—her great-grandmother's studio—in her hometown of Albuquerque, NM. Now, at 16, Juliet's making big moves toward a serious ballet career: She's currently a level-seven student at the San Francisco Ballet School and she's performed as Clara in San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker. Earlier this year she competed at the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland. And let's not forget—she's a ballerina named Juliet. It's perfect.
We are so excited to feature Juliet on the cover of this issue. Not only is she a stunning dancer (as you can see from the cover—can this girl take a beautiful picture or what?), she's also super-smart (she was asked to give an inspirational TEDx Talk in 2012!), ultra-sweet and insanely humble.
Click here to read Juliet's cover story. And, as always, we've got plenty of extras for your viewing enjoyment: click here to check out a ton of outtakes from Juliet's cover shoot in L.A. with photographer Joe Toreno, and then watch a behind-the-scenes video from the shoot.
We love you, Juliet, and we can't wait to see what you do next!
In the summer of 2012, Juliet Doherty gave a talk at a TEDx conference in her hometown of Albuquerque, NM. She was the only teenager to speak that day—and, in a ballet costume and pointe shoes, the only person not wearing a suit. After her speech, during which she encouraged listeners to “be great," Juliet performed a solo. That was the day she got her first standing ovation. “The amazing thing," she says, “is that it wasn't just about my dancing. It was about the message I was trying to put out there."
It's safe to say that won't be Juliet's only standing ovation during her ballet career. Now 16, Juliet is a student in the San Francisco Ballet School's pre-professional training program, and she's already collected a handful of professional performing credits (as Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and in San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker) and competition wins (she won gold at the Youth America Grand Prix finals when she was 14). Earlier this year, Juliet competed at Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland. She talked to Dance Spirit about ballet competitions, Broadway and “being great."
By the time this issue comes out, you will have competed at Prix de Lausanne, which was a longtime goal of yours.
Juliet Doherty: This will be my first overseas competition. When I came to San Francisco Ballet two years ago, I talked to Patrick [Armand, the associate director of the SFB School] about it. He said I could compete right away, but I chose to train for a year with the school first so I could get the full experience without the added stress of competition. After a year of training, I filmed my competition application video. In November, I found out I had been selected to compete. Since then it's been a lot of rehearsing, working on my variation, learning my contemporary solo and adding my own artistry to the pieces.
Which pieces did you prepare?
JD: My age division had 10 variations and four contemporary selections to choose from. I chose the Swanilda Scene 1 Act 1 variation from Coppélia, and for my contemporary I picked “Saraband," from Vasos Comunicantes. Most of the contemporary options were a minute long, but this one is almost three minutes. I wanted to be challenged.
Performing at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in 2012 (courtesy Juliet Doherty)
Not everyone in the ballet world is on board with competitions. What's your take?
JD: When you're dancing in a company, you're constantly under the pressure of performing and being looked at. I think the best way to get a taste of that at a young age is through competitions. Then, down the road, you can think, “OK, this has happened before. I know how to handle it."
I try to bring everything I've learned at competitions into my performances. I have a solid technical base; my competition experiences won't hinder that.
The SFB School is a big supporter of ballet competitions. Did that factor into your decision to attend?
JD: Yes. I was competing at the YAGP finals in NYC in 2012 and took the scholarship class on the last day of the competition. That's when Patrick offered me a summer scholarship. I was 14 and starting to consider moving away from home to a pre-professional school. I got a few different offers that day, but I had a good feeling after talking to Patrick.
I spent the summer at SFB and I loved it, so I stayed for the entire year. Now I'm back for my second year. I've also been lucky enough to perform with the company for two years as Clara in Nutcracker.
As Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in NYC (photo by Gene Schiavone)
How'd you get that role?
JD: People just came into class for five minutes with a clipboard and watched us during barre combinations. Then four of us got calls later saying we'd been cast.
It's neat because I got to work one-on-one with Helgi Tomasson [SFB's artistic director]. As a student, we're always looking at Helgi wondering, “Who is this mysterious guy?" The first time we ever danced in front of him, he said, “Are you nervous?" We were hesitant to say yes, so we just nodded, and he said, “OK, you should be."
But dancing Clara with SFB wasn't your first time being Clara.
JD: I was Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for three years—two years on tour, and one year in NYC. Dancing at Radio City Music Hall, on that huge stage, was incredible. During our first dress rehearsal, we were doing our center bows, and I had to run off after my bow. I didn't realize how far I actually had to run to get into the wings! I could hear the director, Linda Haberman, yelling at me, “Keep running, keep running!" It took me so long to get offstage.
Have you always known you wanted to be a ballerina?
JD: No! I've danced my entire life—I grew up dancing at my great-grandmother's studio, Fishback Studio of the Dance—but even when I was doing Radio City, I wasn't set on ballet. I thought I might want to sing and act more. It was my mom's idea to take me to YAGP—she was my main teacher and coach until I was 14—so I went for the first time when I was 9.
I was a brat then. I never wanted to practice my variation. But that summer, something clicked. I realized I had to change my attitude or no one would work with me. From then on, I decided I would pursue ballet, and I've become a totally different person.
“I look back at when I was 6 years old and I had no idea how to do a jazz square. I was just onstage having fun. That's what audiences enjoy. They don't come to see a perfect performance—they come to be moved and to feel something."
(Photo by Oliver Endahl/Ballet Zaida)
Walk us through a day in your life.
JD: I wake up around 7:30 am. I live in the student residences at the SFB School. The first thing I do in the morning is make my breakfast, which is usually a green drink.
I take the public bus to get to SFB. I usually start with technique class or floor barre, then pointe or pas de deux, or special extra rehearsals. Each class is 90 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes.
After my last class, I go about my day. I shop for groceries, do laundry or clean my room. Then I'll cook my dinner and squeeze in some schoolwork. I go to sleep between 10:30 and 11 pm. Any later than that and I can't function the next day. I have one class on Saturdays at 9:30 am, but I have the rest of the weekend free.
How do academics factor in?
JD: I'm doing an independent study online. I read a lot, and my work doesn't have due dates. I want school to be a part of my life, but it's not my main focus right now.
What's your dream role?
JD: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet!
(Photo by Oliver Endahl/Ballet Zaida)
Any idea which company you'll be doing that with?
JD: I'd love to go to Europe—not necessarily with one company, but to dance on multiple stages, working with as many choreographers as possible.
You were part of the workshop for Susan Stroman's Little Dancer in 2012. Now the show is potentially coming to Broadway, starring New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck. Might we see you on the Great White Way someday?
JD: It's really cool seeing dancers cross over into acting. I love when dancers are versatile and get opportunities to do more than just one thing. I don't think they've had auditions yet for the part I was workshopping, so I'm considering going out for it—we'll see!
What's the most valuable advice you've ever received?
JD: Every dancer struggles with being in her head. There's always that voice saying, “You're not good enough." Before competitions, my parents will remind me, “You're your own biggest competitor. Let go of everything you're holding on to. It will just get in your way. The only person trying to pull you down is the little voice in your head." Once I remember that, everything gets easier. It's an ongoing thing with me. Some days are horrible. But some days I exude all the confidence in my dancing that I want to have. It's just about quieting that voice.
“You are already good enough to get where you want to go. You have greatness inside of you and it can be discovered at any moment. You don't need to be at a certain level to say, 'OK, now I'm great,' or, 'If I add this one thing to my repertoire, then I'll be good.' You're born with greatness. All you have to do is recognize that."
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Ready, Set, Juliet
Must-see TV: “Even though it kind of corrupted Albuquerque, I watch 'Breaking Bad' when I miss home. But since that show is so emotionally draining, I also like to watch 'The Carrie Diaries,' 'The Mindy Project' and 'New Girl'—I don't have to get involved, I can just follow along and laugh."
If you were a superhero, what would your power be? “I just want to fly."
Your go-to stress reliever: “Calling my parents at the end of the day."
Strangest thing in your dance bag: “A banana holder. It's a hard, yellow plastic banana-shaped thing and it prevents your bananas from getting bruised. It's an amazing invention and I always have it with me."
Favorite dancer of all time: Natalia Makarova
Performer you'd die to work with: Steve Kazee, who originated the role of Guy in Once on Broadway
Breakfast of Champions
Start your day like Juliet—who follows a plant-based vegan diet—with this recipe for her “Super Green Smoothie."
Combine a handful of kale, a handful of spinach, half a cup of any frozen fruit (she likes mango or mixed berries), a banana, 4 ounces of apple juice, 8 ounces of water and some flaxseeds in a blender. “The greens may seem scary at first, but trust me, the fruit makes it naturally sweet," Juliet says. “You'll feel energized and ready for whatever challenges the day may bring.
With some of my favorite people after seeing one of my favorite shows! (On opening night, they make it "snow" outside Radio City Music Hall. How's that for magical?) I'm the one in the red coat, flanked by my friends Lauren and Scott on the left, and my boyfriend, Brian (hiding his broken arm in a cast inside his sweatshirt), on the right.
Living in NYC, lots of things get old really fast: car horns, ambulance sirens, crowded subways, car horns, unavailable taxis during rush hour, pollution, car horns... But the one thing that never ever ever ceases to amaze me is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring The Rockettes.
If you've never seen this classic show, here are five reasons to catch it this year, either at NYC's iconic Radio City Music Hall, or in one of the show's tour cities:
1. The Rockettes! Duh. These women aren't just beautiful and talented: They're perfect. I've never seen formations as impeccably spot-on as the ones in "The Parade of Wooden Soldiers," and the reindeer costumes in "Sleigh Ride" make me wish for my own pair of light-up antlers. Plus, the Rockettes can do much more than eye-high kicking. In "The Twelve Days of Christmas," they tap up a storm, and in "Snow," which is new this year (though, sadly, it replaces "Shine," which is my forever-favorite Rockette number), the Rockettes show off a little contemporary style.
While the dozens of women onstage may somehow manage to look exactly alike, it's fun trying to spot familiar faces in the line. This year, I saw former comp kid (and DS model!) Kali Grinder and "Dance212" veteran (and another former DS model!) Jenny Laroche.
2. The "other" dancers. Fun fact: The Rockettes aren't the only dancers in the show. There are more dancers in the show who do more traditional, jazz-based dancing throughout the 90-minute program. ("So You Think You Can Dance" alum Matt Dorame and New York City Dance Alliance demonstrator Chase Madigan are among the NYC group this year.)
3. The Claras! The fourth scene of the Spectacular is "The Nutcracker," and it just might be my favorite part. It's a twist on the classic Nutcracker's "Land of Sweets," with dancers in giant bear suits playing the parts of the sweets. Leading the group of bear-dancers is Clara, a real-life, talented little girl who bounds around the stage on pointe with a grin on her face that seems to stretch from stage right to left.
Past Claras have included "SYTYCD" Season 10 winner and current DS cover girl Amy Yakima, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company dancer Catherine Hurlin, up-and-comer Madeleine Gardella and my all-time favorite ballet dancer, Juliet Doherty. (Click here to meet a whole group of former Claras—all of them came from the comp world!)
4. The camels!!! The second-to-last scene of the show is "The Living Nativity." Surprisingly, this is one of my favorite parts of the show (though, apparently, all parts of the show seem to be my favorite at this point). There's no dancing during this scene, and it's based on the story of the first Christmas. So it doesn't really sound like something I'd be into—and then four camels walk across the stage. Real camels. There are sheep, too, but it's the camels that get me every time. Camels, sharing a stage with Rockettes. I mean...where else can you see that?
Balcony seats for the win! (You get to see all the formations that way.)
5. The sheer joy it brings. There is something for everyone in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, whether you're young, young at heart, old, old at heart, a boy, a girl, a dancer, a hater, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a non-believer, a ballerina, a tapper, a tourist or a longtime New Yorker. Basically, The Rockettes = world peace.
So you promise to go see the show? Great! Here's where to buy your tickets.