It takes over 200 people to bring the magic of The Nutcracker to the stage every performance, and all of them don’t get to take bow during the curtain call. Onstage the dancers are a stunning display of glitz and glamour. They're light on their feet, airy, graceful. Backstage the crew quietly executes scene changes, all called on cue by the stage manager who sits just offstage to the left. Below the dancers sits another important, at times overlooked, piece of the puzzle, the heralded Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra. These 45 gifted musicians provide a live performance of Tchaikovsky’s famed score every performance.
Earlier this season I discovered one of these musicians travels from her home in New York City to play in our production of The Nutcracker every year. I figured, as NYC has no shortage of ballets and Broadway shows to perform in, there must be something special about our Nutcracker that brings her back year after year. “I really admire Michael Pink and all that he has done with Milwaukee Ballet," explains violinist Susan Dominguez. "Although I am a big fan of the Balanchine version, I love the colorful and vibrant "aliveness" of his interpretation.”
Susan Dominguez is a native Wisconsinite who comes from a musical family. “Growing up in Milwaukee there was always music in my home. My father is a Pianist/Vocalist and so all family activities somehow involved singing and playing musical instruments, especially during the holidays. I began violin lessons when I was eight years old.”
Susan immediately took to the violin and joined the Music for Youth Orchestra (what is now MYSO) the next year. From there she attended Bay View High School (the first Milwaukee High School for the Arts) and studied Violin Performance with Ralph Evans of the Fine Arts Quartet. From there she pursued a Graduate degree at Temple University in Philadelphia and studied with Jasha Brodsky of the Curtis Institute and Luis Biava of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
She traveled around the country performing with different orchestras before returning to Milwaukee, eventually meeting her husband and moving out East to the Great White Way.
Though she has played this score since her days in graduate school, she still finds The Nutcracker exciting and challenging. “Being able to play Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker is always a challenge. I don't think you can ever get too comfortable no matter how many times you play it. Even after 20+ years I am still practicing the Overture and the Finale!” She adds, “I also perform with Broadway Shows and Opera Orchestras in NYC. They're both very repetitive as well, but I think that because of the wonderful Tchaikovsky score, The Nutcracker is the most musically rewarding to play.”
Susan is now raising a musical family of her own, and The Nutcracker plays a large role. “My 9 year old son, Eliot, loves ballet," she explains. "He saw his first Nutcracker at the age of three! He is now in his third year of Ballet Studies at the School of American Ballet in NYC. Every year we look forward to coming 'home' to Milwaukee!”
When she’s not in the orchestra pit, Susan enjoys visiting her family in Port Washington and enjoying long walks on the beach or spending time with her husband's family, and is “grateful to be healthy, happy and doing what I love every day of my life!”
If you go to The Nutcracker this weekend, make sure to save a little applause for Susan and the entire Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra. The Nutcracker runs through December 26 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are still available for every performance.