by Tatum Johnson
For countless people in America, the Nutcracker is synonymous with Ballet. Replete with candied children and Tchaikovsky’s dazzling composition (conducted by Alfred E. Sturgis), it is a holiday tradition. And the dancers at Carolina Ballet enjoy performing it, year after year, for many reasons. For the younger dancers, learning and performing the original Robert Weiss (Artistic Director) choreography is a new experience even if they have participated in Nutcracker performances since they were children. For the seasoned dancers, remaining focused in each moment of the performance and emoting their characters keeps the ballet feeling fresh, as the steps have been committed to memory years ago. Then of course there are the costumes, created with exquisite attention to detail (Judanna Lynn and David Heuvel). And the fabulous sets (Jeff A.R. Jones) and lighting (Ross Kolman).
Or, as ballet master Marin Boieru, 57, states simply, “it is a magic show, a must-see, a perfect family show.” Boieru, one of four ballet masters at Carolina Ballet, has an easy and affable manner, speaks gently and laughs frequently. After having danced with prominent companies such as Miami City and Pennsylvania Ballet, he easily transitioned into his new role. Now he spends his time teaching classes, overseeing rehearsals, and occasionally dancing in productions. (He will appear as Drosselmeier in the upcoming Nutcracker.) With his seasoned dancers eye, he reflects back to the dancers every detail of their performance, guiding them daily as they prepare.
Boieru has been with Carolina Ballet since its inception in 1998. He is proud of his dancers. Several of the founding members of the company remain, now as principals or first soloists, and he has enjoyed watching them grow.
One of these dancers is Margaret Severin-Hansen, 29, who will be dancing a lead role as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Butterfly in the Nutcracker. Recalling Hansen’s early days with the company, Boieru states, “Peggy loves to laugh. Each time she made a mistake, she started cracking up. I would say, “Peggy, you didn’t do. (this step)…’” and she would start giggling. She still laughs but not that much, not like she used to. It has been fun to see her grow.”
It is hard to imagine Hansen making many mistakes. Like a butterfly that becomes flight, when Hansen appears onstage she becomes dance.
For many people Nutcracker will be the only ballet they see this year. Yet for the company, Nutcracker is one of many performances executed throughout their season. Opening with Swan Lake in September and concluding with Sleeping Beauty in May, Carolina Ballet‘s repertoire this season ranges from the staples such as Swan Lake and Nutcracker to the unique such as Messiah and Picasso, created and executed by Weiss.
Nutcracker represents the compilation of hours of training and rehearsal, yet this is all in a day’s work for the company. Rehearsals for Nutcracker were held on the same day as those for Messiah. For apprentice Taisha Barton-Rowledge, 19, this overlap can be a bit “tough on the brain”. Having previously danced in the professional division program at Pacific Northwest Ballet, this is Rowledge’s first year with Carolina Ballet. She is energetic and enthusiastic, qualities that no doubt keep her motivated throughout the up to 6 or 7 hours of rehearsing required daily.
Indeed discipline is fundamental to a dancer’s life. Whereas a professional athlete may have the option to take several months off from their sport in order to recuperate mentally and physically, dancers who stray too far from ballet do so at their peril: Hansen has not been out of “dancing shape” for over ten years. Early in her career with Carolina Ballet she took 6 weeks off from dancing while on break, and when she returned it “felt so bad. Everything got sore, and hurt. It’s not worth taking that much time (off.)” Rowledge plans to take only a week off from dancing when she goes home to Seattle in January to see her family. Whereas an athlete must maintain muscle strength and aerobic conditioning, a dancer must keep those as well as the muscle memory required to continually mold their bodies into unnatural positions.
But the end result we will see onstage in the upcoming weeks appears effortless. When the dancer takes his final turn, the orchestra has quieted, and the lights go up, you will not be thinking about how much raw power it takes to leap several feet off the ground. Your spirit will be transfixed, and you may wish it would last forever. You will return to your daily life with a bittersweet awareness that what you have experienced was indeed magical. As Boieru says smilingly, “You better come!”