by Ashley Ellis
Nutcracker season is upon us, which means many things; the holiday season is upon us, temperatures are dropping, and for us dancers, hearing the lovely Sugar Plum and Russian music as we walk through the stores to do our holiday shopping.
And many more times as we head back into the theater.
Here in Boston seeing this ballet is a holiday tradition for so many people in and around the city. And to make sure that everyone has a chance to see this holiday classic, Boston Ballet offers a total of 44 shows this year. It is a daunting number to say the least—for everyone involved in the production. However, besides the obvious fatigue that accompanies such a rigorous schedule, there are benefits that come with performing everyday—and it can be up to ten shows a week. Needless to say, one tends to become quite comfortable on the stage and strength is gained without even realizing it.
This combination of comfort and strength provides wonderful opportunities for growth as an artist. Dancers have a chance to explore their approach to the technique being executed, musicality and more. On top of this, it is a time when many of the principals and soloists travel to appear as guest artists in other places. This gives even more opportunity for company members to perform some of the more demanding or spotlighted roles.
These opportunities can be exciting, but it is always important to remember that with this strenuous schedule and colder weather, everyone has to take extra care in staying healthy. Injuries and sick days do creep their way into the picture, but we do our best to avoid them by frequent visits to our wonderful physical therapists, resting when possible, and nourishing our bodies.
In Mikko Nissinen’s production of the Nutcracker I alternate between the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Dew Drop, and Arabian. I would say that dancing the Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum is my favorite role, and I truly enjoy the time onstage with my partner in this classy and regal pas de deux.
Apart from these shows I will make a few trips through the Nutcracker season to perform in different places. It can be a wonderful change of scenery during such a long stretch of one production, and when I come back things usually feel a bit more fresh. In addition, sometimes I will do these guest appearances with an old friend who I haven’t seen in a long time, so these trips have an extra bonus!
I must give a special shout-out to the members of the corps de ballet. Many, if not most of them, are on stage every day without even a single show off. So, while performing from the day after Thanksgiving straight through New Years Eve, how does one have time to enjoy this joyous season without going mad? Well, between holiday shopping and performing it is tricky, but we do find ways to create a festive atmosphere and keep the atmosphere light.
If someone has a chance to pass through the dressing rooms at the Boston Opera House they would most likely find music playing, Secret Santa gifts, sweets (yes, even us ballerinas treat ourselves), and lots of supportive talk. We all get grumpy at one point or another, but the dancers are so supportive of one another—rooting each other on as someone does a role for the first, or even the 40th time!
Even though most dancers have a tendency to cringe when they hear the music of the Russian dance for the umpteenth time in Macy’s, there is always a magical feeling when hearing it along with the rest of Tchaikovsky’s score. Especially when it’s being played live by an orchestra—along with the telling of this classic story.
In the end we all come together and we survive the season as a family. Ringing in the New Year is even more exciting because it means we have made it through another “Nut” Season!
Boston Ballet presents Mikko Nissinen’s Nutcracker through December 31st. You can get tickets through their website.
Contributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.
She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.
Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s La Bayadère; Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides; Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s Serenade, Coppélia, Symphony in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.