The Nutcracker: Bringing New Magic to an Old Tradition

Sophia Esposito ’20, above, and Emily Jackson ’19 will each play the role of Clara for two of the performances in this year’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

With a crash of the cymbals, Uanne Chang ’20 leaps into the waiting arms of Romulus Sottile ’19, extending her leg backward as Sottile spins across the stage, carrying her in his arms. As the music ends with one final flourish, Sottile, playing the Cavalier, dips Chang, the Sugar Plum Fairy, while the rest of the characters in the Land of Sweets gather around the stage.

“The part [of the Sugar Plum Fairy] was definitely very challenging to learn because I have to rely on another person so I don’t have as full of control of what I do, but in a way that creates a lot of trust. I had to learn to have a lot of trust with my partner and other people which I think is a very important thing to have in the dance world in general,” said Chang.

“The Nutcracker,” a biennial ballet performance choreographed by Judith Wombwell, Instructor and Chair of Theater and Dance, will be presented to the community on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The production, which has been in preparation since the beginning of the school year, features Andover dancers of all levels, as well as faculty and staff and their children.

This  year’s “Nutcracker” differs from past productions because the school did not invite guest artists to fill technically difficult roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Instead, student dancers took on the challenge of learning those demanding parts over months of technique classes.

“We decided not to have professional guest artists and [decided to] take our students and put them in those really difficult and challenging roles. I’ve been super excited and so proud and have a lot of fun working with this group of dancers. There are so many of them at all levels, [and] people seemed excited about their parts,” said Wombwell.

Another key difference of this year’s show is the new choreography of the Tea Variation. According to Wombwell, the original choreography reflected stereotypes of Asian culture and was in need of an update.

“Traditionally [the Tea Dance] has been somewhat racist in the way that it’s been presented with stereotypical movements or just things that are attached to Asians… so we threw that away and started from scratch. Estelle Zhu [’20] is very trained in Chinese dance so she [had] two of the dancers and Samantha Lee [’20] help me do the ribbon work, and we sort of all three worked together to make this beautiful little piece,” said Wombwell.

Unlike many other productions shown at Andover, “The Nutcracker” gathered members from all parts of the community. In order to produce the show, many teachers, students, and faculty children at Andover had to work together.

“It gives a very unique opportunity to see this Andover community come together in a way that I haven’t experienced before, to have all these people come together with a common goal and a common production in mind has been amazing to see how people work together and truly foster a community and family within this dance,” said performer Katherine Wang ’21.

“I think it’s really great to see everyone come together for such a show like this and have it be so big with everyone being a part of it. It’s nice to see students, children of faculty, and faculty members together in one room and make something that’s beautiful, and as Ms. Wombwell said, magical,” added dancer Jeffrey Steele ’20.

According to families of participating children, the production is a unique opportunity for aspiring young dancers to partake in the classic holiday tradition.

“It’s been wonderful [having my children in the play] and having them all participate in an annual tradition like “The Nutcracker.” I think the best thing is their excitement to be part of the tradition and definitely the dances which was new for them,” said Elizabeth DiBattista, a parent of a child participating in the show.

Editor’s Note: Estelle Zhu is an Associate Arts Editor for The Phillipian.