Tag Archives: Nutcracker

Getting rid of the on-stage jitters

Never fails, I’m always a bundle of nerves during the first full run through on the VBC stage, especially during Chinese.

We had Act II rehearsal tonight. I thought I did OK for the first night, I wasn’t quite as sharp as I want to be, and my jumps were not as high as I would have preferred. But there were no major mistakes, so I’ll take it. I know things will get better from here on out now that I’m used to being back in the theater.

I’m a lot more comfortable, and a little more confident after the second run through. There’s been a slight change in the choreography, but that’s not really a big deal.

I thought it was a good rehearsal overall. Our Sugar Plum and cavalier are going to rock the grande pas. And the guest artist we have doing Russian can really leap. It’s going to be fun to watch him perform.

We have Act I tomorrow, which means I switch to party dad and work the magical bed during battle scene. It’s a totally different vibe from Act II, which to be honest is more fun for me.

Get to sleep in a little tomorrow, but have my last final of the semester at noon.

Dress rehearsal is Wednesday … and then it’s seven shows in four days starting Thursday.


One of the traditions we have during Nutcracker is gifting. The kids exchange gifts with other kids who are in the same dance with them.

As an adult, I really don’t expect a gift, but it melts my heart when I get one, I do confess.

Last year, one of the Chinese girls gave me a small Chinese soup bowl with scented soap. A couple of years before, one of my party “daughters” gave me a Nutcracker ornament that hangs from my tree each year now. Tonight, one of my Chinese girls gave me a box with candy. It’s pretty cool.


My biggest challenge may not be on stage, but sharing a small dressing room with the rest of the party dads, the guy playing Mr. Stalhbaum, the guy playing Drosselmeyer and Mother Ginger. I’m the only one with a costume change, which means trying to keep up with clothes, costumes and shoes, while trying to work around eight or nine other people.

Of course, by the time Act II is over, it’ll be cleared out except for me and the dad who plays Mother Ginger.

I will try to post pics by the time we’re done. Didn’t have a whole lot of time tonight.

A ballet slowly gets a makeover

The original artistic director for our school and company is a local legend.

The man taught thousands of students. He choreographed his own version of The Nutcracker, painted the backdrops for each scene and played a role in the creation of the props and other materials used for the sets.

Anyone associated with the school who is older than the age of 35 speaks about him in reverence.

Any attempt to change anything this man had a part in creating during the more than 30 years he was artistic director is met, as you can expect, with some form of resistance.

Mr. O found that out when he brought his own version of his Nutcracker a few short years ago. He is still finding that out as he works with the theater director of a local university.

The sets, the backdrops that the original director created were pretty remarkable. But the problem? Many things used for the Nutcracker are well … more than 40 years old. The old stage crew that ran the show up until this year put up resistance to replace the stuff.

They retired.

The makeover is slowly beginning. I put in a link about the costumes. We now have a new snow scene backdrop. It totally rocks. My iPhone can’t do it justice.

But there is still plenty left to do that won’t be done at least for another Nutcracker or two to come. The one thing that baffles me? Why during the reign of the original artistic director and a couple of his successors that no one thought about updating or replacing deteriorating props, backdrops and other things needed for scenes.

That doesn’t take away from what was originally done. It adds to it, and make things simpler in the long run. We had to replace the rickety stairs used for the entrance because they reached the point where you couldn’t replace them anymore,

And the barres we use for company warm ups? They’re as old as me.

And the backdrops for the party at Stahlbaums, the battle scene and the Land of Sweets are tattered, and at the point of mildew. Even the original artistic director should have thought about replacing them after a couple of decades.

I’m including a photo of the snow backdrop.

As for today’s schedule: It’s the lightest of production week, somewhat.

I have spacing rehearsal for Chinese that’s only 30 minutes. But then I lend a hand with the small, new stage crew. There’s still much to do with the sets.

Tomorrow, the real dancing work begins on stage with a full Act 2 rehearsal.Image


Only in ballet: “Since it’s cold, it’s OK to keep your clothes on.”

Those were the words Mrs. O said this morning.

And with good reason: It was frigid in the studio where we have class. In Alabama, we have bi-polar winter weather. Two days ago, the high was 74 and humid. The studio felt sticky.

Today, highs in the low 40s, but this morning it was in the 30s with snow flurries and sleet. And our heating and cooling unit was on the fritz (no pun intended considering its Nutcracker time).

Since it was a company level class, normally the warmups must come off before we hit center. Today, Mrs. O left the warmups can be worn option, of which most of us took advantage of it.

It was a fairly easy class considering we start rehearsing at the theater tomorrow. I got praise during a jete combination during petite allegro and that NEVER happens. It was a fun class.

We also had our final rehearsal in the studio this after (it was Act I). Party scene went really well. Things always seem to come together right when we hit the theater.

Of course, with the new sets, it will be interesting to see how things go once we’re there.

Theater week actually begins today. I’m about to head out to help with the sets. I’m excited. This is my favorite week of the year.

A story about our Nutcracker

A story about our Nutcracker

This mentions some of the changes I described. Our shows are next week!

First party scene rehearsal = chaos

I think the more than 10,000 people who will see us perform the Nutcracker in about a month would totally be surprised if they saw our first party scene rehearsal each year.

Our first rehearsal with all of the parts (children, parents, maids, Drosselmeyer and the Stahlbaums, but no dolls) was yesterday, and boy, it was a doozy.

It always looks messy the first time we run it, and this year, moreso.

There aren’t as many “party parent” veterans this year, so everything had to be completely broken down and run through quite a few times, and that’s just with one cast. Because they’ve redone some of the costumes (which have to be shared when it’s double-casted), there was a quite a bit of shuffling around with which party parents go with which children.

For the rookies, it was a crash course. And it will continue to be so for the next couple of weeks. One huge difference this year? With the exception of a teacher who also dances with the company, and one other lady, the vast majority of the party moms are either company members or senior students at the school instead of recreational adult dancers or mothers of dancers.

The reason? New fancy dresses were designed this year, and the girls fit them. The party scene for them is actually somewhat new, although some of them danced roles as children or danced as dolls,

There are about three or four of us party dads who were basically the only veterans, and even we were moved from roles we’ve been doing for years.

It was a painstakingly slow rehearsal of which only one cast got to rehearse. Next Sunday, we’re going to have to try to get the other half of the cast done, along with adding the battle scene.

It’ll be fun. I’ll be rehearsing all three of my parts this weekend, with Chinese on Saturday and both my parts in the party scene and battle scene on Sunday (before going to my final Sunday work day). I’ll be sweaty and sore when it’s over, especially when you consider I also have company class on Saturday.

On a humorous note, I believe I have now covered just about every age group imaginable when it comes to party wives I’ve performed with. Three of my first four years as a party dad, my
wives” were my age. The lone exception was a modern-salsa dancer/teacher in her mid 20s.

My last two years, my “wives” have been older than me, in their upper 50s-60s (and three of the most amazing recreational dancers you’d want to meet).

This year, my two rotating wives (I’ll also rotate with another party dad) are … 18!

Fortunately for me, I take classes with both (and performed in quite a few shows with one of them). They are both good natured girls.

Class-wise, because of the holiday, I didn’t get to dance today. I may take a makeup class in company class tomorrow.

That’s after coming off one of my better weeks of classes.

Saturday, my turns weren’t there like I’d prefer, but I was able to do some tricky petite and grande allegro combinations.

And I seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough with a step I’d convinced myself I’d never be able to do: Ton be couple jete’ (sort of a leap coming out of a turn).

“You’ve got the steps, you just need to work on the timing,” Mrs. O told me Saturday.

From her, that’s praise.

And speaking to timing, I did perform soldier doll during party scene rehearsal. I did the steps of the dance OK, but somehow managed to get ahead of the music (don’t know if I started too early, or rushed it like I do when I get nervous).

If I’m asked to do it again this week, I’m confident I’ll do a much better job with the music.

Nutcracker back in the day

A clip from the second Nutcracker I was in. It was our artistic director’s first year, and we’ve come A LONG WAY since then. This clip does not include much dancing, but I’m the guy in the gray jacket with the party wife in red.

The song that gives me butterflies

I was standing in the hallway waiting for class when I heard it coming from a rehearsal.

The Arabian song from Nutcracker. And it’s weird, I felt the butterflies.

Is it strange a song that triggers the emotions when I’m about to go on stage triggers almost the same response a little more than a month from when we perform?

Why does the Arabian music do that for me? It’s simple, I’m in the Chinese dance, which comes after Arabian in order. No other song does that two me even though I’m on stage two other times.

The role of party dad is almost too easy, so the overture at the beginning doesn’t quite make the nerves go. At least in our version of The Nutcracker, party parents are in the background. If we (as in party parents) mess up, no ¬†really notices unless you knock over the tree. The focus is on the kids, Fritz and Clara (or Marie, depending on the version), the dolls and Drosselmeyer (misspelled?).

My other part, I’m under the bed during the battle scene transporting a sleeping Clara all over the stage. No one knows it’s me. Most people think it’s either moving by remote control, or by some other tech form of magic instead of me giving it the “Fred Flintstone” driving treatment.

But when I come on stage for Chinese, it’s a complete different story. I know that for roughly a minute, I am the center of attention, in front of 2,000-3,000 people for seven shows.

That’s why the nerves hit when Arabian plays. That’s why it gives me butterflies every time I hear it.

The weird thing? Once the Chinese music comes on, once I’m on stage, the nerves go away. It’s just one amazing, fun, adrenaline rush.

Can’t believe we’re about a month-and-a-half away.

As for class today, it was really fun.

Mrs. O was serious about driving home points about shaping our feet and using proper body alignment.

She gave us a couple of tricky combinations: Inside turn from second, chasse, pirouette, ton be pas de bouree, repeat in the other direction … and for petite allegro: Glissade, soubre saute (misspelled?), assemble’ right, assemble’ left, glissade assemble’ (right or left depending on the direction we’re going) and for grande allegro: Sissone, sissone, sissone pas de boure’, glissade assemble. (Please forgive my misspelling of ballet steps)

They were tough. But Mrs. O explains steps so well, I was able to do the combinations, although they were a little sloppy. But for the most part, I kept up with the company kids.

I appreciate classes like that.

As I walked out, I looked at the open beginner class were they were doing slow steps.

Don’t get me wrong. Those classes have their place.

And that’s where I started.

But I like classes where I get to move. I like classes where I get to work on tricky combinations and get a sense of accomplishment when I’m able to do them.