The Hidden Magic of Warner Theater’s The Nutcracker

How many of you, when you get a song stuck in your head, hum Tchaikovsky? Who else has 45 little sisters for whom they are entirely responsible? Who wakes up in the middle of the night panicked from a nightmare where the soldiers missed their barn door completely, or were late for their entrance cue, of the cannon didn’t go off?

This experience may be uncommon, and yet this is the way I spent the past six weekends and each night of the week before December 2nd. I taught the soldiers in the Washington Ballet’s The Nutcracker their choreography. The production is, to say the least, a gigantic, highly complex, highly intricate machine. As the choreographers assistant, I observed and commented on all aspects and scenes of the production, so I learned how each piece has a specific function. But as any teacher reading this will know, after you’ve assembled the parts and build your creation, watching it perform all on its own is a wildly rewarding experience.

That must be how Septime Webre, the Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet who choreographed this new Nutcracker, and everyone else involved with contributing a piece to the machine must feel. We swam in a sea of corrections, things to remember, and responsibilities that overwhelmed us until, like magic, it all came together at the last minute.

Well, it did come together at the last minute – last year. It was our first time performing the new version of the production and it was a complete success that it garned outstanding reviews. Now, this year, we face enormous pressure to deliver a performance that is equivalent to if not better than last year’s.

The first night was a success, however I am writing to you from my bed, the morning after opening night, with a cough and Tchaikovsky ringing in my ears. I anxiously await the review in the Washington post like a father whose wife went into labor.

As nervous as I am, im not the only one. All of the operators and contributors of this production sit on the edge of their seats holding their breath during these first few performances. And Friday night was just one cast. The other casts perform on Saturday and Sunday, and their first performances will be just as hectic and important.

What I realize thought is that, with as far as we’ve come, we’re on the edge of our seats together. When the dancers go out on stage, we sink or swim together. Backstage, all the people who just rushed everyone around in preparation are holding their breath together. When that machine performs, we are all responsible for a piece. The sense of unity is astounding and moving.

It really is a warm feeling to know how close everyone’s become. I found I had a whole new family packed underground at the Warner Theater. All the mothers are like my mother, and the they fuss over me the same way they do with the little girls. As there are three casts of 15, I really do have 45 little sisters. They each give and receive an average of 3 hugs a night, so that’s 45 hugs, times five for five nights that opening week. That’s a lot of love. They want to know everything and, being ages 7 to 13, they giggle and squeal over everything. When the nutcracker prince asked for my number, I had 15 little hands making my hair pretty, advising me on how I should sit or talk, rushing around me, giving me gum, and already planning our wedding with fairy tale like vision that only little girls can possess.

This is just a little taste of the sugar plum magic that has been mine this winter. I have been honored to work as hard as I’ve worked, and I adore all the people with whom I have worked. Alex Ignatius, Kate Adamson, Mary Kate Robbett and many others in the upper, middle and lower school are the members of our community who have had their taste of nutcracker magic and have worked unfathomably hard. You too can experience the sweetness and magic of The Nutcracker and even if you’ve never been to a ballet, or you don’t think you have the time, I really urge you to consider bringing the whole family during our holiday break. It will be truly magical.

Emilia FerraraThe Discus