It Was the Year Without The Nutcracker..
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
The trick or treating is done, we ate all the turkey, and we should be right in the peak of Nutcracker rehearsal season. For many, it's not Christmas without the dance of Clara, Godfather Drosselmeyer, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Mouse King and, of course, the Nutcracker Prince. But for dancers still dealing with (sadly necessary) COVID-19 restrictions on rehearsals and performances, a year without the Nutcracker can seem less than sweet.
When the pandemic caused the theaters to go dark, I had not anticipated the artistic loss and ongoing tragedy this global health crisis would have on performing arts. As I began to settle into a new normal, I grasped that for the very first time in my life I would be without a Nutcracker.
Photo by G Mac Photos - The Conservatory of Dance and Theatre's The Nutcracker 2007
To me, The Nutcracker is not just any production. When I was younger, I saw a performance at the Walker Center in Wilkesboro, NC called “The Matchbox Girl.” In one of the scenes, the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker started dancing on stage for the little Matchbox girl. I was three years old and I knew from that moment on I wanted to be just like her. It was only two years later I started taking dance lessons. It was that performance that I saw that made me want to become a dancer. I transferred to another studio to focus strictly on ballet, and that year was the first year the studio was to perform The Nutcracker. I thought it was meant to be! I debuted my very first soloist role as Arabian Coffee and the Pirouette Doll and now, 15 years later, I have performed almost every role in The Nutcracker. To this day, the attack, energy and precision of the Sugar Plum Fairy role makes it my absolute favorite to dance.
Children often enroll in classes for the chance to dance in the Nutcracker performances as mice, young partygoers and angels, among other supporting roles. For adults, the shows are sometimes their initial experience watching live dance. It tends to be the first ballet that people see, the first time they experience attending a production, that thrill when the curtain goes up, the hush of the crowd.
Photo by Samuel Crider - The Conservatory of Dance and Theatre's The Nutcracker 2018
This year the coronavirus pandemic has canceled performances of The Nutcracker around the U.S. and Canada while others are presenting a prior year recording of The Nutcracker virtually this holiday season. The economic vulnerability inherent in arts organizations is exacerbated when they rely on a major seasonal event — like The Nutcracker — for large portions of revenue. With no Nutcracker, this is eliminating a major and reliable source of revenue for dance companies and dancers already reeling financially following the essential shutdown of their industry.
The spread of the coronavirus is scary, no matter who you are. But for dancers, who work in close physical proximity to one another, there's an added element of risk. Dancers can't exactly "work remotely," after all, and the dance world functions through large gatherings—classes, performances, rehearsals, events—that we have to avoid as the situation escalates.
Dr. Lucie Clements, a dance psychologist and senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Chichester in the United Kingdom, says that it's normal to feel like no one else can understand what you're going through right now. This is hard, and whatever feelings you're having are valid. Yes, there is a lot of suffering in the world at this moment, but it is completely okay to feel upset, angry, and disappointed for your own losses.
It's normal to feel sadness when something you've been looking forward to is canceled. But Clements says that it's also important to spend some time analyzing the reasons you're upset. Are you sad because you're missing the joy of being onstage? Or are you sad about losing a chance to win a prize, or impress someone in the audience? "There is an immense amount of research that shows that if you are motivated by something intrinsic—essentially, enjoyment—then you are more likely to continue and be successful," says Clements. "Those who are extrinsically motivated, who are going after a trophy, are the ones who will find this harder." If you discover that much of your disappointment is rooted in extrinsic motivations, this is a good time to refocus your approach to training, so that you're working for joy rather than for rewards.
The pain of loss is an affirmation of love. I am motivated to keep going through this. The reason that I'm feeling these sad feelings is because my passion is still there. It's definitely frustrating, but it's important to know that in the end, I want to keep trying because of that loss that I felt.
Photo by Cindy Bates- The Dance Center of Greensboro's The Nutcracker 2016
During quarantine, I'm keeping up with dance in my bedroom. The opportunity to train and take class with all these people you may never be able to otherwise is such a silver lining. And with IGTV and saving Live Stories, you can take a class at the time that actually works for you.
Nothing should obscure the fact that this is a horrific moment where a lot of people are suffering and losing their lives and livelihoods. But for me personally, this came at a moment where I needed a break, and I would have never ever given myself one. I'm a hustler who loves having five jobs at once. I was looking so far ahead in terms of my career, but this moment has really grounded me in the present, in quiet and stillness.
There's never been a moment I haven't felt wildly lucky to be an artist, but the way the global arts community has come together has blown me away. I've been moved to tears multiple times this week seeing how people are opening up their hearts during this time. Dancers helping other dancers keep moving, artists helping other artists stay inspired. Art continues no matter what, because in times of struggle it provides an escape. Right now, everyone is staying home benefiting from art. I hope that after seeing how art saves us in many ways, there will be a continued push to develop and fund it.
Photo by Samuel Crider - The Conservatory of Dance and Theatre's The Nutcracker 2019
The theater is my home away from home during the holidays. It has been Christmas for me the past 15 years. Nutcracker is not only tradition, but an opportunity to take on new roles and perform night after night. You take Nutcracker for granted when you've done it for so long, but performing the show and seeing the audience is what I will miss the most.
Embracing a year without Nutcracker will no doubt leave a hole in the hearts of dancers across the country, but there is a silver lining. The Nutcracker has been such a staple. Hopefully the lack of performances will help motivate audiences to come to other shows and get art back into the community. I am confident that dance will return, and return stronger than before because we have been without it for so long. People need it. They are realizing they are not whole without it.
Photo by Cindy Bates - The Dance Center of Greensboro's The Nutcracker 2012