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Nutcracker Memories

Finale scene of The Nutcracker

By Dallas Guill

Since the introduction of ballet, countless stories have been adapted and translated to the stage, brought to life through the beauty, poise, and athleticism of dance. Among these classics, The Nutcracker has perhaps become the most synonymous with ballet. The characters (by sight or name) are immediately recognizable. The music has been featured in numerous forms of media over the years. And each holiday season throughout the months of November and December, the production makes its annual pilgrimage to local theaters, serving as a holiday tradition for families around the world.

Some would say it serves as the “gateway ballet” for many patrons, connecting individuals to the art form through an imaginative story that resonates with audiences of all ages. For others, including students at Texas Ballet Theater School, it serves as their first performance in a full-length ballet.

As we head into the holiday season, some of TBT’s Company Dancers share their earliest memories of The Nutcracker:

Do you remember the first time you saw The Nutcracker when you were younger?

“The first time I saw The Nutcracker, I was 4 and my mom had given me a Life Saver candy. I immediately choked on it, threw up all over myself, and didn’t get to watch the ballet. But the next time, I was 11 and I attended the Sacramento Ballet’s production. I think I had always thought of professional ballet as this unattainable, magical, unicorn-like thing, but when I saw kids IN the production, I thought, ‘I want to be in it too!’ So, the next year, I auditioned and I got to be a part of the show. I fell in love and here I am, 24 years later.” – Carolyn Judson

“I must have been around five or six years old. I’d always been particularly enamored by ballet, but the first time I saw The Nutcracker, my parents said I was absolutely mesmerized. I came home afterward and wouldn’t stop dancing around the house, and my dream was to play Clara one day.” – Dara Oda

“I was 10 years old, sitting on the edge of my mezzanine seat, watching finale in Act II of The Nutcracker, mesmerized by the precision and beauty of the scene. I remember clapping as loudly as I could, trying to put all my awe and appreciation into my palms, so they would know how much I’d loved them, hoping they would still feel it after the curtain was closed. That was my first Nutcracker experience, and it speaks bounds about the magic that the ballet provides to me then and now. Even so, it wasn’t until 6 years later that I danced in it, meaning that I was very late to the Nutcracker party.” – Paige Nyman

Do you recall the first time you danced in The Nutcracker?

“The first time I danced in The Nutcracker, I got the amazing opportunity to play the role of Clara. I look back on that year and know it was one of the best experiences of my life. It opened my eyes to the world of professional ballet; such beauty, such camaraderie, such magic. I actually thought it looked so beautiful and so challenging that I decided I never wanted to be a professional ballerina. I didn’t think I had it in me. And some days I still think that! But I was hooked on getting to play a character and perform on a stage. So in some ways the profession chose me and I haven’t been able to turn it down.” – Carolyn

“I was eight years old the first time I danced in The Nutcracker and I remember being SO nervous but loving all the aspects of the performance: the costumes, hair and makeup, and getting to watch the older dancers. I was a party scene girl and my mom put my hair in sponge rollers and I felt so glamorous! I think The Nutcracker was what made me truly fall in love with performing.” – Dara

What has been your favorite role that you have played in the production?

“It’s hard to beat my first year getting to be Clara as a child. But professionally, of course I have to say the Sugar Plum Fairy. She is regal, humble, confident, and maternal. The character brings such joy to all who are in her presence, and when I get the honor to portray this star, this twinkling fairy, I hope that I am bringing the magic and spirit of the holidays to everyone watching, especially to the children who are full of dreams and who are possibly seeing The Nutcracker for the first time.” – Carolyn

“I am often asked what my favorite role in The Nutcracker is, and it is an unbreakable tie between Snow Queen and Sugar Plum. They are such different roles, and require such different approaches, leading to very different rewards. Snow is surreal—the pas beginning with the fog dancing around your ankles, and the stage bright and bare before you. But it escalates quickly to a whirlwind of snowflakes, and a level of physical exhaustion that is thrilling. It is magic and adrenaline and camaraderie.

Sugar, however, requires a level of perfection that is isolating and regal, creating such difficulty in the rigor of the details. It too ends in a glorious coda, where the energy that is emanating from your own body is returned by the music and the audience. I am really not romanticizing my experience—this is what I feel, as dramatic as it sounds. Sugar governs the kingdom, and her subjects love her, and that is an incredible experience.

And I think that is why it is beloved by so many. It can be shared and understood in a unique way, because it transports our audience to a different land—one that is made of dreams: our dreams, children’s dreams, and many a parent or grandparent’s dream. It gives a gift of joy and wonder.” – Paige

Waltz of the Flowers dance
Paige Nyman and Brett Young dance in the Waltz of the Flowers.

Why do you think the production has become such a timeless classic?

“The holidays are so important to so many people. It is a time to create and maintain traditions, to spend time with family, and to remember joy and love and hope. For so many families, going to The Nutcracker is one of those family traditions. From the music and the first appearance of Clara’s famous nutcracker doll to the falling of snow on-stage (not to mention a freaking whole land of sweets), The Nutcracker is a two-hour escape to a dream land where the only problem you face is a mouse king who goes away by merely being tapped on the head with a shoe or a family member who is snoring too loudly during the grand pas de deux’s quiet music. There are few things during the holidays that don’t require screen time or some sort of family feud; The Nutcracker is one of those rare, special, magical holiday things.” – Carolyn

“In my family, the holiday season is all about traditions and The Nutcracker has been an annual tradition throughout my whole life, whether I am performing or in the audience. It is a chance to escape in the wonder and beauty of the season while creating lasting memories. TBT’s production is so special to me and I still vividly remember being in complete awe during my first season with the company. Even though I was no stranger to The Nutcracker, Ben’s version just comes to life on stage and it’s a joy to be a part of each season.” – Dara

Although TBT will not be presenting The Nutcracker on stage, you and your family can experience the most magical tradition of the holiday season from the comfort of your own home. Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker is available online for the first time ever, and when you purchase a ticket, you’ll also receive access to TBT’s annual parody production, The Nutty Nutcracker. Click here for more details.