Productions of “The Nutcracker” are everywhere during the holiday season. The magic of dancing sweets, a handsome prince and a holiday dream-come-true is everything you need to get into the spirit of the season—especially if you’re an aspiring ballerina hoping to one day perform the coveted role of Clara or the Sugarplum Fairy.
California audiences can see this fairy tale come to life at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Thursday, Dec. 7 with an opening night cast led by principal dancer Misty Copeland as Clara the Princess.
Subsequent performances will highlight other principal dancers including Stella Abrera (Dec. 9 and 16) and Gillian Murphy (Dec. 9, 15, and 17). The Register spoke with Abrera and Murphy who shared some of their favorite things about “The Nutcracker” and the holiday season.
Gillian Murphy of American Ballet Theatre will perform in “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom Center of the Arts. (Photo by Rosalie O’Connor)
American Ballet Theatre’s Stella Abrera will perform as Clara the Princess when the annual production of “The Nutcracker” comes to Segerstrom Center for th Arts December 7-17. (Photo by Rosalie O’Connor)
American Ballet Theatre will return to Segerstrom with “The Nutcracker” December 7-17. (Photo by Gene Schiavone)
American Ballet Theatre will perform “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom Center for the Arts December 7-17. (Photo by Doug Gifford)
American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland will perform as Clara, the Princess in Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom Center for the Arts (Photo by Doug Gifford)
Q: How old were you when you performed in your first production of “The Nutcracker?”
Gillian Murphy: When I was 7 years old, I danced as an angel in the second act of “The Nutcracker” at my local ballet school’s production in Florence, South Carolina. I remember feeling slightly confused, but very excited before entering the foggy stage with my fellow angels.
Stella Abrera: I was 8 years old when I first performed in “The Nutcracker” (with Pasadena Dance Theatre), as a bon-bon scurrying out from under Mother Ginger’s skirt.
Q: Why do you think “The Nutcracker” has become such a beloved Christmas routine?
GM: Every year, people tell me “‘The Nutcracker’ puts me in the holiday spirit.” The season can get a bit frenzied, and I believe that families and friends enjoy the tradition of sitting down together to share the experience of live theater for a couple of hours and to be swept away by extraordinary music, dance and storytelling.
Q: Do you have any fun, holiday traditions?
SA: A Christmas tradition in my family when I was growing up was making batches of homemade almond roca to give to our loved ones. I’m the youngest of five children, and I loved being in the kitchen with all my siblings who I idolized. I found it wonderful to spend time together having fun with our various jobs: stirring the butter and sugar just the right way in the big stock pot, chopping the almonds, placing the pieces of chocolate to melt on the hot toffee as it set and hardened into roca. It was messy fun to bash the candy up into bite-sized pieces and then package it all nicely in pretty tins for our friends and family. Of course taste testing was the best part!
Q: Care to share a favorite ‘Nutcracker’ memory?
GM: It was particularly special to dance the role of the Sugarplum Fairy for the first time when I was a freshman in high school at the North Carolina School of the Arts and to perform the role with my husband (boyfriend at the time) Ethan Stiefel many years later with American Ballet Theatre. However, perhaps my most nostalgic Nutcracker memory was dancing the role of Clara for the first time when I was 12 years old. In that production at Columbia City Ballet, Clara is on pointe and dances throughout the ballet, and I remember the sheer joy of waltzing along with the flowers in the second act and of portraying a girl (not unlike myself) on a great magical adventure.
Q: What does it feel like to perform in front of so many aspiring dancers?
SA: It’s a great honor … I remember very clearly what it’s like to be in their shoes – to have dreams of dancing in lavish productions of big ballet companies. What’s interesting is that even though I have been a professional for many years, I still have that sense of wonder and amazement that I get to perform these roles in this company that I love. But it’s tempered with a heavy sense of responsibility to perform at the high standard worthy of this great company.
Q: Do you remember the choreography or do you have to re-learn the steps each season?
GM: I remember the choreography from year to year for both Sugarplum and Clara. Even though both are danced to the exact same music, my muscle memory kicks in for both versions of choreography. So instead of spending time relearning steps, I try to use preparation time to bring greater precision, abandon, and imagination to my performances.
Q: There are so many productions of “The Nutcracker.” What do you find particularly appealing about this one?
SA: Alexei Ratmansky’s version of Nutcracker stays true to the essence of the traditional story, but he’s incorporated some whimsical twists here and there. … I love how young Clara and her Nutcracker prince have an adventure in a snowy wood and suddenly their imaginary, grown-up selves appear. Clara the Princess and her Nutcracker Prince begin to dance together and it becomes clear that love is starting to blossom between the two. These complex and intricate pas de deux require the experience of a seasoned dancer, and yet that same dancer has to let his or her inner child shine through, and that is a really interesting and sometimes a tough balance to play.
Q: When you hear Tchaikovsky’s score during the holiday season, do you picture the choreography in your head?
GM: To be honest, it can be a bit grating during holiday shopping to hear the classic Sugarplum music played in so many stores. At this point I’m spoiled by listening to great orchestras perform Tchaikovsky’s score live, and a lot of shops have pretty awful remixed and synthesized renditions of recorded music. Meanwhile, it’s fairly impossible for me to hear the music without recalling choreography, so I tend to move on to the next store whenever I hear ballet music because the piano and orchestral music I dance to almost everyday at work is so much more fulfilling.
Q: California is much different than New York this time of year. What do you look forward to about coming to California? Anything you like to see or do when you’re here?
SA: I enjoy coming to California during the holiday season because so much of my family is here, and it’s where I grew up. I may be an NYC woman, but I’m a California girl at heart!
Q: Whether it be their first or 10th time, what do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing “The Nutcracker?”
GM: I hope that audiences watching ‘The Nutcracker’ are transported by the children’s adventure and that they leave the theater inspired by the love, beauty, courage, and gratitude portrayed in the story.
When: Dec. 7-17
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Media ArticlesABT principal dancer Marcelo Gomes resigns amid allegations of sexual misconduct10 holiday dance scenes from your favorite movies‘The Greatest Showman’ choreographer says movie musicals are here to stay‘So You Think You Can Dance’ champion Lex Ishimoto returns home to Irvine to dance ‘The Nutcracker’Misty Copeland shines in American Ballet Theatre’s otherwise by-the-numbers ‘Nutcracker’ in Costa Mesa
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