Today we’d like to introduce you to Luis Eduardo Gonzalez, a company member from The Joffrey Ballet who will be writing for us here! Naturally, his first post for us will have a Nutcracker theme, since it is that time of year. We look forward to hearing more from him throughout the season!
by Luis Eduardo Gonzalez
The annual occurrence of Nutcracker, for most dancers in the United States, has become as inevitable as Christmas or winter. Just like the holidays and the weather, people have different ways of approaching the seasonal change. Some dread the cold and feel lonely around the intensely marketed time of the year, while others start playing Christmas music and whip out a Christmas tree the day after Halloween. We all know the music, the story, the process; it is easy to give in to the monotony and start to dread your 27th show of Waltz of the Flowers before you’ve even opened. We’ve all felt this way at one point or another, and maybe not even just with Nutcracker. Getting caught up with the potential stagnancy that routine can bring is a difficulty that we are all susceptible to at any point in a dance career, or in any career. There are, however, moments that if approached in with the right perspective, and with enough attention, can remind us to live in the now, and bring us back to appreciating how lucky we are to do what we do. It is too easy to forget that we have a career, or rather a medium, through which we use our gifts to provide special moments, and feelings to other people.
The casting journey
Christopher Wheeldon choreographed a completely new version of The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet last season, after almost thirty years of the Company performing Robert Joffrey’s version of the production. The project was high stakes, and an ambitious undertaking for him, for us, and for everyone involved. To make sure that we had enough time to bring his vision to life, the snow music was waiting for us as soon as we got back from summer break in August. There are four male soloists in his version of snow, and because the dancer I was learning got injured, I was now one of them, and for my second season in the Company it felt like a great opportunity. We rehearsed for a little over a month. Day in and day out, altering steps, repeating sequences over and over, and trying to make sure we were doing the steps the way Chris imagined they would look. Casting came out a few weeks before the performances, and my name was not on it. I was confused, disappointed, embarrassed, and maybe a bit angry. No one had talked to me, no one had given me notes on how I could have improved on the work; it was as if my work for the last month meant nothing, like it had just been erased. Looking back, it seems silly to get upset over one role. In the large scheme of things this was definitely not a matter of life or death, but being a professional dancer means that you are the product your selling. Attaching your self-worth to the roles that you do or don’t get happens almost naturally.
After a night with a little Malbec, and a call with my family, I realized that at I had a decision to make. I could give into righteous resignation, make myself a martyr in my own head, and give up or I could fight for an opportunity to grow through this. One very helpful thing that came up in my memory was my teacher telling me that when you fall, making excuses stops the process for figuring out what lead to the fall. Defending yourself from something that might hurt you in a way stops you from growing. If the situation was hurting me, then there must be something to learn. This made me think of all the opportunities that we as dancers sometimes don’t take full advantage of. The truth is that we love what we do, passionately. We know this because the career is too difficult and requires too much sacrifice to do it without love, and it is that passion that hypersensitizes a fear of not being allowed to do it. With that in mind it’s easy to see how it’s silly to let changes in circumstance (the ballet, the choreographer, who is teaching class, the role you’re dancing) affect how much joy you get out of doing something that has such a significant place in our hearts.
I remember the day that Chris came in to talk to the Company about the changes to the traditional story he wanted to see in his new version. The plot would now circle around the 1893 construction of the Chicago World’s Fair. The Land of the Sweets was re-envisioned as a still magical, but somehow more relatable and true wonderland of pavilions where the Waltz of the Flowers, was now the Fair Visitors, and Candy Cane, changed to Buffalo Bill. The best change he made, in my opinion was making Marie a humble immigrant girl in Chicago, raised by a single mother. Although the traditional story is beloved, and still heart warming the opulence of it was really not true to “the spirit of Christmas” but more importantly Chris’s nature. [Read more…]