Volume 19 | Issue 30 | December 8 - 14, 2006


Joffrey Ballet School’s “The Nutcracker”
Choreographed by John Magnus
December 16
At the Skirball Performing Arts Center
566 LaGuardia Place

Photo by Geoff Smith

Students of the Joffrey Ballet School rehearsing “The Nutcracker” last Saturday with John Magnus, artistic director at the school

Visions of sugar plums, dancing again

By Sara G. Levin

“Move like angels, and don’t rush the first part,” said John Magnus, artistic director at the Joffrey Ballet School, as anxious young girls in black leotards and white tights waited for their cue. Like the fading light from the Sixth Avenue corner windows of Joffrey’s fourth floor studio, Tchaikovsky’s music, coming from a little black boom-box, filled the room. Throughout the week the well-known ballet school has been preparing for its annual production of “The Nutcracker,” showing December 16 at the Skirball Performing Arts Center.

Performed simultaneously all over the country, by ballet school after ballet school, “The Nutcracker” has become a genre of its own within the dance world. Some wince at it, and some swoon. But as sure as audience after audience fawns over the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen, and the Prince, young dancers are inevitably drawn into the ballet’s fantastical tale.

Fluttering into the rehearsal space, each holding a plastic candle, the “angels” rehearsed the opening of Act 2. Some girls held in chuckles as they shuffled past a friend, and some held their brows high as they glanced at their reflections in the mirror. They crossed, intertwined, and circled each other, struggling with the difficulty of pacing and timing—hitting the mark on the count of eight, not seven, or one.

“The hardest part is the bridge,” said eight-year old Lily, as she waited to rehearse her part in the beginning party scene. “Because we always line up wrong and we’re always nervous.”

“I like the chassés and the spring points because they’re fun,” said seven-year-old Flavia.

Isabel, seven years old, said she is nervous about a solo she has running through the bridge with Clara — the star of the show, who was not at this rehearsal. “I think I’m Clara’s best friend,” Isabel said proudly. Clara will be played by Megan Buckley at the 2pm performance and Momoko Sasada at the 7pm performance.

Many of the youngest girls were excited because it is their first time performing in “The Nutcracker.” They traced the stage in choreographic patterns reminiscent of Balanchine, choreographed anew by Magnus. As their two lines joined at one corner, Zelma Bustillo, director of Joffrey’s children’s department, scooped together pairs like running water, and directed them to flow up center stage.

As some of the girls and boys — there were at least 2 young boys there — rushed through the hallways to be fitted for costumes, the music was rewound to the beginning. Just before they heeded their cue one more time, Bustillo reminded them to take small steps.

“If you make big steps you are going to trip on your costume, and that’s not a good thing!”

But by the end of the rehearsal, at least one angel had timed everything right.

“That’s right, that’s it,” said Magnus to a small blonde, who smiled wide when she nailed her cue.

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