By Chloe Campbell '19
It’s that time of year again; the holiday season is at its nuttiest. For most on the close, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker is a show that they may have seen as a beaming child, as a yearly holiday tradition, or even as a vague memory of graceful Sugarplums and flitting snowflakes. However, to me, the ballet represents nine years of dancing: my roles ranging from an animated clown to a dreaming, naïve Clara.
The Nutcracker is adapted by ballet companies around the world. Traditionally, the plot follows a young Clara who receives a nutcracker for Christmas which whisks her away into the dream land of sweets. She watches delectable performances of dancers depicting Russian candy canes, marzipan sheep, Arabian coffee, Spanish chocolate, Chinese tea, and other sweet treats.
However, Septime Webre, the former artistic director and choreographer of the Washington Ballet, added a truly American twist to the story. Our ballet is set in Victorian-era Georgetown, complete with grand party dresses and dapper attire. The battle scene features George Washington as the Nutcracker and King George of England as the rat king. In addition, the land of the sweets is replaced with episodic performances of various characteristics of D.C. The waltz of the cherry blossoms is set at the tidal basin, and various historical figures such as Frederick Douglas, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross make appearances. This clever interpretation of the ballet is almost a U.S. history class brought to life.
One of my roles in the show this year is a big butterfly in the opening of Act II. After the last period of a demanding day at school, I hurriedly pack up my bags and rush to the ballet studios to take a warm-up class.
After an hour and a half of jumping and twirling, my friends and I travel to the Warner Theatre downtown. We run through the stage door from the cold and pass green-eyed rat head masks and other whimsical props on our way to check in next to our casting for the night. In the dressing room I twist my hair into a neat “French twist” and pin in a purple flower hairpiece. I finish my makeup complete with winged eyeliner and just a touch of glitter.
While watching the first act, I tie my pointe shoes, ensuring that my ribbons stay restrained with a spritz of hairspray. After slipping on my sleek, iridescent costume, the band of butterflies and I climb the stairs to the stage. After we secure our wings to our backs, we creep behind the curtains and await the first notes of Tchaikovsky’s music. A stagehand to my left turns on a dry ice machine and the fine mist begins to glide across the stage. Hearing the soft sounds of the music, I crawl beneath its blanket to my mark across from my fellow butterfly and classmate, Annabel MacDonald.
As the curtain rises, eight beautiful butterflies emerge from of the mist. My arms fly up and down to the music and my feet flutter across the stage into parallelograms with the other butterflies in unison. We invite the the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier to enter, and then greet Clara and the Prince. After our flying is done, we bow and float offstage.
Walking to the dressing room, I remove my wings and begin to reenter the real world of responsibilities: returning home to finish my school work.
This holiday season, I encourage you to pause your everyday life and take a magical trip into the whimsical world of a truly American Nutcracker.