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Practice Makes Perfect: Rehearsing The Nutcracker

The NutcrackerAlyson Chavez and Petr Zahradnícek

It’s the end of the first two weeks of The Nutcracker rehearsal and Michael Pink has come into the studio today for the first time to see what kind of progress we’re making… A few notes – I say “we” because for the third time, I’m lucky enough to get to play the role of Grandma! Believe me; I’m as nervous as the rest of the cast with Michael Pink sitting up in the front of Studio A. With a ballet like this one, Michael leaves the bulk of the responsibility of teaching the ballet to his trusty assistants, Ballet Master, Denis Malinkine and Ballet Mistress, Nadia Thompson. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the Ballet Master and Ballet Mistress are responsible for teaching the Company and rehearsing the ballets in our repertoire. There are 21 new people in the production this year between the dancers in the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program and the Company - and many people in new roles - so what is usually relatively “review” has been a more demanding process this year.

Today is the first time we’re running the ballet from start to finish, as a test to see where it stands. We are midway through Act I and so far there have been only a few stops to clean up some details of the parents’ dance, and a mid-battle bust-up when Fritz accidentally tripped Clara who fell and caused Marie to land on top of both of them! Everyone is working together, helping newbies Etienne Diaz and Tim O’Donnell through the Tannenbaum Christmas party. Rachel Malehorn goes in as a “little mouse” (normally played by a Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy student) to show the other casts of Clara and Fritz what happens during the beginning of the transformation scene; she is hilarious and ferocious, giving the whole scene a boost of energy. (It’s her warm-up, she says, for her real role as the Rat King. You go girl!) As I sit here watching the gorgeous Snow Pas with David Hovhannisyan and Valerie Harmon I get chills – even after seeing nearly every show for seven seasons. The Nutcracker is still full of magic and enchantment.

We have just begun the holiday season – there will be appearances by school, MBII and Company dancers all over town – at tree lightings and on the news, at the malls and the children’s museum. The season is upon us and while it’s hard to believe, we’re really only three weeks away! The dancers get next week off for Thanksgiving so with only one more week in the studio before we go to the theatre, the pressure is on to get this right and ready. Sitting in the studio shows you just how much must go into a production this big. The girls are going over the steps for the snow scene, the Drosselmeyers are practicing their magic tricks. Doug McCubbin, our stage manager makes sure people know where to pick up their props and wheels on the big Snow Queen book. Yuki Clark is back from her injury and will be dancing Shepherdess and Spanish – we’re glad to have her back! Kara Bruzina has also recovered – she sits in the front watching Snow – ready to help the new girls or go in during the next cast. Act I got a confident nod from Michael Pink. Now the boys are in the corner, practicing their big Jack jumps, from a mini-trampoline over the half wall of the set; things are cooking!

Traditions become traditions for a reason – and The Nutcracker might be one of the best examples of that. There’s always something new to see – be it new a dancer or your favorite in a new role. But there’s comfort in the familiar too – hearing Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score played by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, seeing the sparkly snow fall or just being at the theatre with your family, friends and loved ones… All this practice is worth it, so come celebrate this fantastic ballet and the holidays with us! I’ll be in the purple dress! See you there!

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach