Missing the Nutcracker
NYCB Artists Look Back on Their Favorite Backstage Traditions
December 17, 2020,
Every holiday season, George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® returns to our Lincoln Center stage to bring the magic and wonder of this treasured holiday treat to audiences young and old. For many, musicians, dancers, and audience members included, The Nutcracker is an essential element of their annual celebrations. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NYCB was forced to cancel its onstage presentation of this cherished ballet, and with it, the many traditions that accompany the performance of such a dazzling spectacle, whether backstage, in the wings, or in the dressing rooms. For the many dancers who bring this beloved holiday classic to life, this year instead offered a chance to watch The Nutcracker from the comfort of their own homes, and to reflect on the many ways they’ve made this ballet their own. Here are a few of their favorites.
Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford: I miss all the backstage guests that we have specifically at Nutcracker time. I miss seeing the wonder and excitement in their eyes, coming to see the stage and the scenery up close, and the joy it brings to all of us to share in the magic of the production with so many people. Lifelong ballet lovers can be formed in one experience and I miss that connection.
Corps Member Marika Anderson: One of the things I miss most about this Nutcracker season is warming up backstage during the battle scene and getting to hear the Orchestra reach a full swell as the tree is growing. I stop my barre to watch it every time. I also make sure not to miss the Nutcracker Prince’s big reveal. There’s a lot of magic in this production and it’s just as exciting backstage as it is watching from the audience.
Corps Member Andrew Scordato: This year I'm really missing watching the performances from backstage as I'm getting ready for the second act. Getting to see the kids perform brings me so much joy and reminds me of performing as a child myself. Additionally, watching the snow scene from the wings makes me so happy. It's a great showcase of many of our newer dancers and I love seeing their energy and talent!
Soloist Brittany Pollack: In 2008, in the midst of doing 47 performances of the snow scene, a few other corps dancers and I decided to create a “pump up anthem,” which we did together just minutes before going onstage for our first entrance. The idea was to replicate a sort of pre-game team chant as a way to get energized and invigorated.
Soloist Sara Adams: We did it every show at a specific part in the music—when the orchestra symbols crash after the Nutcracker is revealed to be a prince. It’s such a magical part of the ballet as well as in the score.
Corps Member Gabriella Domini: We snowflakes hurry to add a final layer of rosin to the tips of our pointe shoes before forming a circle, our toes turned out and the soft blue tulle of our tutus held out. Smiling at each other, we bend our knees and then stretch our arms up and lift our eyes to the sky with the swells of the orchestra.
Soloist Unity Phelan: We then chant, “Go Snow, Go Snow! Let’s Fly, Let’s Fly! Be Strong, Be Strong! Don’t Cry, Don’t Cry!” at a whisper tone. It makes us all smile and really feels like our team huddle before our match against the snowflakes, tricky choreography, and tiring dance.
Gabriella: Our routine ends with us all prancing and jumping in place while we say a little group cheer for us to all go out and dance with energy and joy! No matter if we’re on show number one, or show number 49, the sense of camaraderie that this tradition builds between us ladies fills us with both pride and inspiration.
Corps Member Clara Miller: It’s such a moment of unity and team spirit before performing a difficult dance that we know is going to be tiring.
Brittany: Here we are in 2020, and up through last year’s Nutcracker, the tradition still lives on with the current, young cast of apprentices and corps members, oblivious to when or how it started. As a soloist, I no longer perform in the snow scene, but I always come backstage (prior to my role in Act II) to secretly check in on the huddle with a huge smile and of course, join in to show support.
Unity: Even though I don’t dance the Waltz of the Snowflakes anymore, I always love joining in for the chant and cheering my friends on from the wings. To me, the snow scene is the most beautiful part of The Nutcracker and watching it from the wings makes me feel so lucky to have the job I have.
Sara: Now, when I watch The Nutcracker from out front, in the audience, I can’t help but say the chant when it gets to that part of the music. It’s so special to know that it continues on, passed down from my generation to the next. The chant continues to be added to as well! It’s a tradition that I hope keeps on!
Brittany: These are the moments that I miss the most this Nutcracker season—the backstage moments, the hugs and high-fives happening behind the scenes, the tears of joy and exhaustion, the little girls and boys dressed in their best holiday outfits to meet the Sugarplum Fairy. When The Nutcracker returns in 2021, I can’t wait to watch the pre-show snow song come back to life once again.
Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan: I just remember many years ago, when I was in the corps de ballet, [Former Principal Dancer] Patricia McBride would come up to the fourth floor and deliver these beautiful hard candy wreaths to each of the corps dressing rooms, both male and female. We would hang them on the doors between rooms. There were tiny blunt scissors attached hanging by a ribbon so we could slice off a butterscotch or a peppermint candy before heading down to the stage for Act ll. I always admired Patty’s kindness towards EVERYONE—she always made Nutcracker season extra special with this very thoughtful annual gift.
Director of Production Marquerite Mehler: Many of the dancers like an Altoid mint before they go on stage. We keep a box at the Stage Manager's calling desk and dancers stop by all the time. It is a refreshing (haha) and social moment between the dancers and staff. We are trying to figure out a safe way to continue this tradition but have not come up with a hands free dispenser, yet!
Gabriella: I’ve also been thinking a lot about the fun memories I’ve made getting to interact with the children who perform in our Nutcracker. I absolutely love talking to my party children (the young dancers playing my grandchildren in the party scene) as I warm up for the shows, and getting to witness their excitement before every performance. I was actually about their age when I visited New York for the first time while on a family trip. I have such a vivid memory of coming to Lincoln Center and getting to experience the magic of New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. Sitting on the left side of the Third Ring, I’ll never forget peering down and being struck with awe at the transcendent beauty of the twirling Snowflakes, the charm of the Land of Sweets divertissements, and, perhaps most especially, that striking moment when the Sugarplum Fairy appears to float across the stage supported by nothing but the hand of her partner. At the time, I remember thinking to myself that the young girls and boys performing onstage must feel like the luckiest children in the world! I could have never imagined that, less than a decade later, I’d be fortunate enough to perform on that very stage as a dancer with the Company.