Just as the curtain closes on fall performances, a "scene change" of sorts occurs backstage: the many personnel who are key to every New York City Ballet production shift gears into winter wonderment mode. Preparations for the annual run of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® require all hands on the snow-covered deck, with an extensive suite of costumes, props, and decor to organize—much less the over 125 young dancers from the School of American Ballet who perform the children's roles. In the midst of this sparkling flurry of activity, we checked in with Shoe Department Manager Daniel Wong to hear what this time of year is like in the shoe room.
How many shoes do you go through during a run of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker®?
Over 120 pairs of shoes for the children. In terms of pointe shoes, there are as many answers to this question as there are dancers in the Company since the number of shoes a dancer uses is very personal.
How many different kinds of shoes are used in The Nutcracker, and what are they?
Besides pointe shoes and men’s ballet shoes, the women in the party scene wear a low heel character shoe. The men wear soft lace up jazz shoes that look like a regular street shoe. The children all wear soft ballet shoes. The Prince also wears a custom patent leather shoe in Act II.
What is the range of sizes for a production of The Nutcracker?
From a children's size 13 for the smallest child in the production all the way up to a size 9 character shoe for some of the women in the party scene.
When do you start preparing for The Nutcracker in the shoe department?
Because children’s shoes are the biggest part of preparing for Nutcracker, shoe fittings start in mid-October. Dyeing shoes for the company starts one week before performances and continues throughout the run.
How many Nutcracker productions have you been a part of?
This is my second Nutcracker at NYCB. As a dancer I was part of three different productions: two at San Francisco Ballet and one at Pacific Northwest Ballet.
What is happening in the shoe department right now?
Besides wrapping up Nutcracker prep, I’m still handling my day to day duties—ordering and receiving pointe shoes, dealing with dancers’ custom shoe issues, administrative work, etc.
Which other departments do you coordinate with for The Nutcracker, and how?
Because the number of children involved in this production is so large, I work more closely with the School of American Ballet than any other department. Of course, working with Men’s and Women’s Wardrobe is essential to make sure shoes are in the right place with the costumes.
What are you most excited about for the upcoming run of The Nutcracker?
I always enjoy helping the children prepare their shoes before the first dress rehearsal. Their excitement brings back memories of how I used to feel before performances.
...and least excited about?
I always plan ahead to make sure everything shoe-related is taken care of thoroughly and as early as possible. By the time the production opens, there really isn’t much for me to be nervous about!