Act One: Behind the Scenes - The Magic of the Nutcracker
Since I was a little girl, dressing up for a winter's night at George Balanchine's The Nutcracker has been an annual family affair synonymous with the magic and the magnificence of Christmas, the holidays in New York, and my love for traditions, elegance, and romance. Forming a deep connection and igniting a lifetime obsession with the ballet, I watched each time anew, from the enchanting melodies to the breathtaking performances and the detailed costumes.
Like a dream come true, we were recently invited to go backstage for a rehearsal and to the costume shop for the fittings. Finding myself immersed in the world of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, with every sense electrified, we learned about the history of the ballet from the elaborate, inspiring costumes to the iconic, timeless music; it was such an honor to be part of the magic that brings this fantastical ballet to life!
If only my five-year-old self could have been there too!
Tutus, Bows, And Ribbons, Oh My!
High above Lincoln Center and unbeknown to most, a magical costume shop exists filled with brilliant craftsman, beautiful dainty costumes, sparkly headpieces, and point shoes aplenty, with bolts of tulle, organza, sequins, ribbons, velvet, lace, and ballerinas abound.
As my daughter Scarlett and I entered the studio, our eyes lit up, it was more spectacular than we had imagined! Marc Happel, the New York City Ballet's Director of Costumes, describes the studio as the highest level of costume-making, with phenomenal craftspeople and hand-stitching. Tasked with the critical job of not only making the costumes beautiful but also making them comfortable so the dancers are not thinking about what they’re wearing when onstage.
The costumes, which have remained the same since the ballet’s NYC debut in 1954, are obsessively cared for and reconditioned season after season for the dancers to bring to life. While we were there, we saw Marie's fitting and taught the art of making the perfect bow—what a dream! Plus, we learned that it's critical for the dancers to do movements from the ballet during a fitting to ensure the proper range of motion in the costumes. It all plays a role, the costumes inform the dancers and influence the movements, like a beautiful melody, each note in tune with the next.
As you can imagine, we were in heaven.
The acclaimed production of George Balanchine’s timeless choreography set to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score premiered on February 2, 1954 when the New York City Ballet was in residence at City Center of Music and Drama, establishing The Nutcracker, and its music, as a Christmas tradition forever. It has been presented at Lincoln Center since 1964 at the New York State Theater, now the David H. Koch Theater.
The famed ballet is based on the book "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," by E.T.A. Hoffmann, with an interpretation written by Alexandre Dumas. The production boasts a roster of more than 150 dancers and musicians, plus over 125 children, in two alternating casts, from the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet.
From Act One's The Party Scene to the towering Christmas tree brimming with glittering tinsel and The Waltz of the Snowflakes to Act Two’s The Land Of Sweets and The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, the entire ballet has remained unchanged for over a half-century! To this day, the sets are moved manually, and the costumes original, making every moment of the grand ballet that much more fantastical and alluring—just as it was over fifty years ago.
The Sugar Plum Fairy
As fairytales go, Tiler Peck's story is that indeed. When she was eleven, she went with her parents to see George Balanchine's The Nutcracker for the first time over Christmas. Sitting in the audience that evening changed her life. Mesmerized by the magic of the ballet she turned to her dad and said: “Daddy, I’m going to be up on that stage someday.” Ever since that moment, she set that as her goal. Now years later, as a principal dancer, she leads the ballet as The Sugar Plum Fairy.
"I'm dancing the role that made me want to become a ballerina," she reflects, "and sometimes I still can’t believe it!”
“I’ve been in the company for over fifteen years, and every performance is more special than the last. Having played many roles, Dewdrop holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first big roles I was given shortly after joining the company. However, there’s something about The Sugar Plum Fairy that is so spectacular. I somehow feel as though I’m bringing Christmas magic to the audience during the most wonderful time of the year. To see children's faces light up, I can only hope that my performance will inspire a little girl in the audience to one day become the Sugar Plum Fairy too—just like it had for me so many years ago.”
“If I could give a little ballerina a piece of advice it would be never to give up on your dreams or compare yourself to anyone else; everyone is unique and beautiful. George Balanchine used to liken his dancers to a garden of flowers, each one different in scent and beauty! If you work hard and believe in yourself, you can set your mind to anything!” Nieve Corrigan, one of the ballet’s incredible dancers, told us on a recent visit to the showroom.
Having danced in The Nutcracker since she was nine, Nieve has played nearly every role from Soldier to Mouse. Now as an adult, she dances every night as a Snowflake and Flower, in The Waltz of the Snowflakes and The Waltz of the Flowers.
From the moment we met Nieve, we were smitten; therefore we asked her to come to our showroom to play dress up! Of which, fortunate for us she obliged and there among the racks of printed silks and embroidered dresses, she danced around in point-toe shoes with her fellow dancer Laurren Collett joking about the realities of dancing in certain scenes.
“I have grown to love different parts of the ballet. The snow scene is amazing to watch from the wings, and the snow looks real, like heaven with angels singing! However, it’s not the easiest to dance because you can’t breathe through your mouth or else you will choke on the snow!” She continued “My favorite is The Waltz Of The Flowers, I would dance this any day, all day, especially in layers of pink tulle! I could go on forever expressing my joy for flowers!”
A girl after my own heart, couldn’t agree more!
While a performance of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker is happening onstage, we watched with wonder from above as The Sugar Plum Fairies danced in preparation for opening night of the ballet. Scarlett and I were awestruck by the spectacular energy, brilliant creativity, and unique spirit that go into producing this breathtaking ballet.
A Night At The Ballet
This year, surrounded by bows, Sugar Plum Fairies, nighties and the love of family and friends, it was my honor to co-chair the family benefit at Lincoln Center, and bring together my childhood memories of celebrating George Balanchine's The Nutcracker and the spirit of the holidays.
Herein we take you through the magic of the performances, followed by the brilliant benefit with our kids, the ballerinas, and the beauty of the costumes in this timeless tradition that supports The New York City Ballet and The School of American Ballet.
The School of American Ballet
We're so proud of all the hard work and energy that was put into this year's benefit as it was a huge success having raised nearly $800,000! This support is vital for The New York City Ballet and The School of American Ballet’s Scholarship Fund to ensure financial aid and training for the next generation of ballet dancers. To learn more about this esteemed program, please visit https://www.sab.org/