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The Tiny Dancers Who Make ‘The Nutcracker’ Sparkle

If final yr’s manufacturing proved something, it was that dimension and spirit matter. The littler the kids are, the extra monumental the stage appears, lending the story enchantment. Sure, there are memorable grownup characters: the Sugarplum Fairy and Dewdrop, Mom Ginger and the Mouse King. However the youngsters are the ballet’s coronary heart, the glue — what guides us down that path to really feel the sentiments.

This yr, rejoice! The tiny our bodies are again — although, due to the pandemic, they’ve little expertise. Of the 126 within the manufacturing (there are two casts) 108 are first-timers within the present.

Dena Abergel, Metropolis Ballet’s kids’s repertory director, sees “The Nutcracker,” which opens Friday at Lincoln Middle, as Balanchine’s coaching floor: It teaches kids of the Metropolis Ballet-affiliated faculty how you can turn out to be performers.

Usually, they begin out as Angels, progressing to extra technically superior elements — just like the Sweet Canes and the Polichinelles — till they age out (or develop too tall for the costumes). Alongside the best way, they be taught choreography and professionalism.

However this yr, with so many ranging from scratch, is totally different. “Not one of the main dancers and many of the dancers interval have by no means been in ‘The Nutcracker,’” Abergel mentioned. “I’ve by no means had a Marie who doesn’t even know what the celebration scene is, or a Prince who doesn’t know the sequence of the ballet. That’s simply by no means occurred earlier than.”

As anticipated, this younger era is thrilled. Eleanor Murphy, 9, who alternates the a part of the Bunny with Taiga Emmer, 8, first noticed the Metropolis Ballet manufacturing when she was 3. “After the present, I used to be screaming as a result of I didn’t need to go dwelling,” she mentioned. “I took an image with one of many Snowflakes, which was cool. I at all times wished to be in ‘The Nutcracker,’ and now I’m in ‘The Nutcracker.’”

She wrapped her arms round herself and giggled. (It’s that type of yr. The cuteness is subsequent degree.)

Abergel is worked up to see these youngsters’ recent method; since they haven’t grown up within the manufacturing, they are going to be much less more likely to mimic what they’ve seen different kids do. “They’re actually studying it from us,” she mentioned. “When it comes to my position, it’s actually difficult as a result of they don’t know something about rehearsing. They don’t know something concerning the stage. They don’t find out about performing. So it’s not simply educating the Angels.”

The Angel position instructs younger dancers about diagonals — how you can cross the stage and to make a circle. It teaches them how you can depend to music. Now, because of this she is giving the scholars new to “The Nutcracker,” Abergel mentioned, “a crash course to be taught all the pieces about being onstage, about rehearsing, about how you can be taught choreography, about remembering it and piecing it collectively from one rehearsal to the following.”

This made casting, too, uncommon this yr, significantly when it got here to picking Marie, the ballet’s younger heroine. Abergel and Arch Higgins, the affiliate kids’s repertory director at Metropolis Ballet, weren’t in a position to base their choices on dimension and previous expertise. They usually had little sense of the kids’s dramatic skill, which is essential for Marie, who helps to hold the ballet.

Abergel made up performing sequences based mostly on the choreography, “simply to see who may convey emotion, who may inform a narrative,” she mentioned. “It was very clear who stood out: Arch and I checked out one another and we had been like, ‘OK, right here, we go.’”

Who bought the half? Two good associates, each 10, with starkly totally different personalities: the vivacious, dramatic Zofia Mendez and the extra serene and dreamy Caroline O’Hagan. (Abergel loves it when that occurs: It reveals the world, she mentioned, that you simply don’t need to be a selected kind to be proper for the position.) Zofia discovered that she can be enjoying Marie from her mom. “My mother requested, ‘Zofia, who’s Marie?’ as a result of she wasn’t very acquainted. I began crying, and my mother was so confused.”

“‘That position is superb,’” Zofia instructed her mom. “So she began crying with me.”

O’Hagan first noticed ‘The Nutcracker’ when she was 2½. “I might at all times come dwelling and fake to be Marie,” she mentioned. “I by no means let my mother put away the ‘Nutcracker’ that she purchased for me.”

Carrying the ballet on their small shoulders is one factor. Marie’s silk taffeta costume for the festive celebration scene in Act I, poses one other problem, much less spoken of: its heft and stiffness. “Once I fall asleep,” Zofia mentioned, “I’ve desires about myself in essentially the most heavy costume, falling down in the course of the stage. Oh, my goodness.”

Abergel is nervous about different issues: The coronavirus continues to be circulating, which signifies that kids could possibly be taken out of the present at a second’s discover. “Let’s say it was Marie,” she mentioned. “We might name the Marie from final yr. However that Marie from final yr is my peak, in order that’s now not an possibility.”

That peak: slightly below 5 toes 7 inches. “In order that’s why I’m like, simply have them as ready as doable day by day,” Abergel mentioned. “Since you don’t know what’s going to occur tomorrow.”

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