If you’re a little girl who takes ballet, chances are you won’t have ‘visions of sugar plums’ dancing through your head, but rather visions of yourself dancing in The Nutcracker presented by Frisch’s Big Boy. The first role many young dancers dream about playing is Clara, the girl who receives a magical Nutcracker for a Christmas present.
“That’s the most identifiable children’s role in all of ballet,” said Suzette Boyer Webb, Director of Cincinnati Ballet Second Company (CB2) and Children’s Ballet Mistress, who leads children’s casts for all productions. “To see children grow in the roles, to understand the choreography, and start adding their own story to it, that’s always an amazing thing to see.”
With 54 children’s roles, The Nutcracker boasts the largest kids’ cast of all Cincinnati Ballet mainstage productions. From a cry baby to party kids, from an imaginary poodle to mice and chicks, children complete the technicolor cast unique to Cincinnati’s version of the holiday classic.
“They’re funny, they’re goofy,” said Artistic Director Victoria Morgan. “It wouldn’t have the same sort of sweetness about it, if adults were playing those roles.” Morgan debuted her interpretation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in 2011, and her whimsical choreographic signature has been a visual feast for audiences ever since.
Morgan said the children’s roles are extremely important to the experience. “It is a family tradition and young people should be looking up there on that stage and seeing kids just like themselves. It makes them feel drawn in and part of the story.”
The story of The Nutcracker is synonymous with family. Boyer Webb said the children in the cast bond as a family of sorts during the auditions, rehearsals, and performances at Music Hall.
Webb begins production planning and scheduling in March or April. Now in her eighth season staging Morgan’s Nutcracker, the former Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer has the production down to a science. Auditions, which are open to Academy students as well as children from the public, are held in August.
With numbered tag pined to their chests, groups of children are taught choreography for the various parts. Once the cast is chosen, on evenings and weekends from September to December, Boyer Webb can be found in Cincinnati Ballet studios, teaching a flock of kids how to perform with the Company’s professional dancers. It’s a huge commitment for the children and their families, who often spend four or five days a week in rehearsal.
So how do you teach children choreography? Webb explained the way she teaches children has evolved over the years. “You realize that every child learns differently. There are times I use counts, there are times when I demonstrate. They’re learning on so many different levels,” she said. “Each group of children will have its own dynamic. Once you start working with a group, I quickly recognize the approach that works best.”
So, when you watch The Nutcracker this season or any other, it’s important to remind yourself of the level of love, dedication and commitment that is shown by everyone involved, both to the production itself, and to the art form of ballet. And, it doesn’t matter whether you are six years old or sixty!