December 2023

Behind the Scenes of the Nutcracker

It’s that time of year again… Nutcracker time! The tune of the “Waltz of the Flowers” plays in department stores and Nutcracker dolls are abundant in holiday displays. What exactly does it take to put on a full scale production of the Nutcracker Ballet year over year? When do preparations begin? We’d like to invite you into the world of Nutcracker. It begins in January and ends in December. Our dancers train year round and Nutcracker is almost a way of life. Over 100 dancers from ages 4 to adult grace the stage and the music of Tchaikovsky’s grand score begins filling our studios in September

1/3 – Costume Madness
In January it’s about putting away hundreds of costumes, organizing them and getting them cleaned in addition to rearranging our storage unit to make sure everything is accounted for and put away safely for next year. We debrief on how things went, what to keep, what to change and what can be improved for next year.

2/3 – Movie Time
February is a time to share our video with our dancers for a matinee celebration. We had a wonderful professional video made with several cameras. This year we went all out and watched the movie at the movie theater with the whole cast. It was so relaxing to just sit in the audience and not have to worry about anything and eat popcorn!

Spring – Focusing on other things (mostly)
In the spring we are getting ready for our next big production in June, but are also working on hiring our guest artists, securing the theater, and hiring our stage crew for Nutcracker.

6/3 – Dreaming of Sugar Plums
By summer the Nutcracker machine is already in motion. We have already hired our lead dancers and guest artists, as well as signed contracts for the rental of the theater, hired our stage crew and reserved important parts of our set that we rent each year. We have already assigned staff to various roles and have posted audition notices. It’s only the beginning of summer but we are already dreaming of sugar plums!

7/3 – 5,000 pieces
The Nutcracker is like a giant puzzle. One of those jigsaw puzzles with 5,000 tiny pieces. Although we have put it together many times before, each year brings with it new challenges. Every year it gets put away, then gets put back together again. That’s part of the fun! Some things have to go back exactly as they were, but every year there are some new pieces and the puzzle gets a little bigger and even more exciting. There is always something new to see, be it costumes, choreography, set pieces, guest artists… even new music. We delight in reimagining the Nutcracker every year. What will we do differently this year? What surprises can we add in? Are we ready to take all the pieces out again and get started? The dancers are already talking about their dream roles and applications for auditions have already been posted. The puzzle box has officially been opened.

8/3 – The Nightmare Before Nutcracker has begun
We have joked around for a long time, “What if the rats win?” This year we are reimagining a bit further and will debut the first ever “Nightmare Before Nutcracker” an original production encompassing all forms of dance on Halloween weekend. What kind of a different experience will Clara have if the Land of Sweets turns Sour? How will she dance with her Nutcracker in the hereafter? The dancers are excited. We have bit off a lot with the start of the new season, a full Nutcracker ahead of us and now a new spooky Nutcracker to add to the fun. This is an amazing group of performers and the stage is where they feel most at home. This is going to be extra fun and we must be super organized to pull it off.

9/3 – Audition Buzz
Auditions were all day on August 26th and a buzz of excitement filled the studios. Measurements and headshots were taken for each dancer from ages four through adult. Each auditioned in their separate time slots. We look for professionalism even from the youngest dancers. Can they handle themselves in rehearsals and backstage? Will they be able to listen and follow directions well? Will they remember their choreography and be able to be brave and enjoy being on stage? From the older dancers we are looking for technical ability, musicality and artistic expression, as well as strength en pointe. What will be the best roles to challenge dancers safely and also be most suitable for the audience to enjoy? These are the questions we answer in the process of casting which is a full time job for several weeks, complete with sleepless nights. It is a domino effect. If one part changes, it changes everything. This is the worst part of the nightmare especially as pleasing everyone is a hopeless job. Usually only one dancer can be Clara. Sometimes we have two dancers share the role. This year, we have 3 Clara’s sharing the role! We have only done this once before. They are each unique and fabulous. Sometimes it is just too difficult to pick one. We can’t wait to see what each unique Clara brings to the stage and all of the dancers in their roles.

10/3 – The Tale of Two Nutcrackers
Rehearsals have been well underway since September and this is the month of our Nightmare Halloween Nutcracker as well as the beginning of our marketing campaign for the actual Nutcracker. Tickets are now on sale! October is busy with costume fittings and alterations. This is the month to organize an army of volunteers. Seems like a crazy time for another show but everyone is excited to wear black lipstick, light up skeleton masks, pumpkin heads and all kinds of other fun Halloween accouterments on stage. Everyone is having a lot of fun preparing for two Nutcrackers. Not sure how this is even possible…

11/3 – Sunny Side Up!
Watching the sun come up… As the sun comes up every day, it reminds me how the Nutcracker Ballet is performed every holiday season all across the country and throughout the world. For Santa Cruz City Ballet at the International Academy of Dance, it has been 15 years of Nutcracker. Many more if you count our first production here in Santa Cruz (co-Directors: Shannon Chipman & Vicki Bergland) as Snow Queen and Co-Director in 1988.

With October over, there is a heightened emphasis on the looming deadline of showtime in December. The stockings are up in the neighborhood coffee shop, most of the pumpkins are out of sight and even on this lovely autumn morning, the holidays are fast approaching like a flock of seagulls to the sand. November is go-time! Now with the Nightmare behind us, we can focus on the dream ahead and get back to the Land of Sweets..
This will be a busy month of rehearsals, alterations and preparations all leading up to next month and the Magic!

Thanksgiving – Thankful
Thankful for the opportunity to put on the Nutcracker again at Cabrillo’s Crocker Theater the weekend before Christmas! We used to put on the Nutcracker on Thanksgiving weekend. We love that it is closer to the holiday season now and we have even more time to prepare. We are so grateful for our incredible team from the youngest dancers to the most amazing parent volunteers and our incredible staff! After this weekend it’s off to the races. It will be a marathon to the finish line, but we feel well underway with what feels like everything ready to go for December. It all happens so fast now, just two weekends until we’re in the theater!

December – Go Time to Showtime
… yet to be written (but follow the story online) – Experience the Magic and bring your magic! You, the audience, are there in your seats for one or more of our four performances of the Nutcracker on Saturday and Sunday 12/16 & 12/17 at 1 & 4:30pm. We can’t wait to share it with you and show you what we have been working on all year!

By Shannon Chipman

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