Thrusting his arms into the air, Mark Cutler, Instructor in Spanish, commands a star-topped Christmas tree to grow and extend upwards towards the ceiling, towering over the dancers on stage. As the tree reaches its final height, the music builds up in a large crescendo and climaxes with the sound of cymbals crashing. With two more quick gestures, Cutler, playing Drosselmeyer in “The Nutcracker,” lights the Christmas tree and sets off a firecracker that leaves smoke floating through the air.
“The Nutcracker,” performed biannually since 1996 and choreographed by Judith Wombwell, Chair and Instructor of Theatre and Dance, follows the journey of a young girl, Clara, and the Nutcracker doll that she receives from her uncle, Drosselmeyer, for Christmas. The role of Clara is shared by Hannah Beaudoin ’17 and Lydia Paris ’17, and the Nutcracker is played by Zach Ruffin ’17.
The production features Andover students, faculty, and faculty children, along with two guest dancers, Roddy Doble and Rachele Buriassi from the Boston Ballet, who play the Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Fairy, respectively.
“We have a long-standing relationship with Boston Ballet, and it was a goal of this show to show the students who are starting dance what it means to be a professional dancer, so that’s why we bring them. It’s really exciting to be on stage with them up close and personal so that’s why we do it,” said Wombwell.
This year’s production of “The Nutcracker” will feature multiple newly-designed costumes by Billy Murray, Instructor in Theatre and Dance.
“I think it’ll give a different vibe having the new costumes, since the other ones were kind of old. Having some of the costumes that are newer and more refined [will] look a lot crisper,” said Daniela Ronga ’18, playing a Columbine doll, a Mirliton, and a Flower.
With flakes of snow falling onto the stage, Romulus Sottile ’19, who plays the Snow King, a new character addition to the production from previous performances, extends his arm to support the Snow Queen, a role shared by Isabelle Bicks ’18 and Emma Wong ’18, as he spins her around. After the pair move across the stage in sync, the Snow Queen jumps into the arms of the Snow King, who catches her and bends down, lowering her to the ground.
“Snow Queen is a lot of partnering, so I dance with another person, the Snow King, and that’s a really cool experience to work with somebody else and practice doing a lot of big lifts and getting comfortable with those, because at the beginning of the rehearsal process, those sort of tricky maneuvers were really scary, and you have to trust the other person a lot,” said Bicks.
A group of dancers surround Clara as she reenacts her adventures with the Nutcracker. With bent arms imitating the rocking of the doll and angry facial expressions imitating her previous battle with the mice, Beaudoin conveys the story of the Nutcracker to the audience.
“The role of Clara is so focused on acting and really portraying to the audience what’s going on through miming and through facial expressions… [so] I’ve really had to focus on how I want to portray Clara, and how I also want to make it obvious to the audience what’s happening because often times if I don’t do that well enough, the audience will be very, very confused,” said Beaudoin.
As the lighting on stage suddenly dims, the music settles into a series of soft, slow, and melancholy notes played on a flute. Blake Campbell ’18, who shares the role of lead Arabian with Sabrina Appleby ’17, arches her body into a backbend and raises one leg as dancers behind her lift and lower a sheer white cloth.
“The costume and the lighting [in the Arabian dance], it’s all very mysterious and dark, and the choreography is really different than anything else you’ll see in the show. The tempo is a lot slower, and it’s in a minor key. It’s really mysterious, while the rest of the show is really happy and upbeat,” said Alice Tang ’18, who plays the Chinese Tea lead and a Flower.
In one of the final scenes of the show, Appleby, who shares the role of Dewdrop with Bicks, wears a sparkly-blue, pancake-style tutu and gracefully twirls down a line of dancers dressed as flowers. As she passes each dancer, they raise their arms above their head. Appleby then weaves her way through each of the flowers, and then gracefully runs off the stage.
“For Dewdrop, I really love the music, which always helps when you’re dancing, and I guess I’ve always wanted to dance a lead role like that, so I’m just excited to be the lead in that scene that I’ve kind of grown up watching. I’ve dreamt of wearing a tutu like [the one in Dewdrop], so I’m really excited. It’s sparkly, and it’s a blue bodice and blue fabric, and it extends out into a tutu. I mean I love dance, so I feel amazing doing Dewdrop, but when you add the costume, the hair, the makeup, the hairpiece, it just adds another level,” said Appleby.
“The Nutcracker” will be performed this Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Tang Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the Theater Box Office for ten dollars with a Bluecard.
Editor’s Note: Isabelle Bicks is an Associate Copy Editor and Emma Wong is a Copy Editor for The Phillipian.