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Holiday Arts Preview 2016

‘Nutcracker’ memories, sugarplum dreams from Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili in Boston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili in Boston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”(Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet)

Performances of “The Nutcracker” are a font of memories, for dancers and fans alike. Here, several Boston Ballet dancers share some key “Nutcracker” memories.

John Lam, principal dancer: “My husband and I had our first son about three years ago, and after three months of paternity leave I came back for ‘Nutcracker.’ There’s a moment in the show where the Nutcracker turns into a human, which is me. I have that mask on, so usually we have a stagehand who helps us. And there was one lady, Jillian Clark, who used to be in wardrobe with us. She would hold my hand, walk me out, and ask me, ‘Are you good, are you fine?’ It was just a sweet gesture. When I came back from my paternity leave she wasn’t there anymore, and I didn’t have anyone to walk with me. It made me realize I’m different now, I’m a father. I have to lead the pack and go out there. I remember thinking about my son and I was like, ‘This ballet is for kids, and I have a kid now.’ It was a very beautiful thing to realize as a professional dancer, as a human, as a father, and as a working parent that I love what I do, and I’m so grateful and lucky. Yes, this ballet is really hard and technically demanding, but don’t forget what the goal is: The goal is to enchant children and open the eyes and hearts of others — this may be the first time they see the ballet — and have them fall in love with what we do.”

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Sarah Wroth, artist: “I grew up in a very small town in Maryland and went to a very small ballet school. Every year for ‘The Nutcracker,’ two principal dancers from the New York City Ballet would come and perform the roles of the Cavalier and the Sugarplum Fairy for us. I remember being starstruck. One year the guest dancer,Peter Boal (he’s now the artistic director for Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle), told my teacher that I would someday be a professional dancer. Hearing that was the very first time I ever entertained the thought that ballet was something that I could do for the rest of my life, or the rest of my dance career. And it was just such a beautiful inspiration that I take with me every day. One communication or one smile from me as I dance now to a student is a magic that we’re creating with ‘The Nutcracker’ behind the scenes. It transcends the magic that’s going from artist to patron. It’s the magic that’s going from artist to artist. You’re inspiring the success of the future of the art form. From the reindeer to the mice to the party children, they’re all looking to us for inspiration. And we are their dream.”

Alexander Maryianowski, artist: “When I first started ballet, I was Fritz, Clara’s brother, in the party scene. Before the party scene started, there’s this scrim separating the street from the house. The stagehand is there getting ready to pull the rope to pull the scrim up — I was ready to run onstage — and the stagehand pulled the wrong rope, so the curtain comes up and all the snow just dumps down on the party scene. I was so shocked, I got all of this adrenaline, because I had never experienced a show malfunction. And I had this huge moment where I thought, ‘The show must go on.’ So I run out onstage through all the snow, and I must have just looked like a crazy person because I was so excited. But of course they stopped the show so they could sweep up all the snow, and they put an announcement on for the audience saying, ‘The Stahlbaum family unfortunately have a hole in their roof, so we are calling quickly to have it repaired and we’ll see you at the party in a few minutes.’ It was a really funny, crazy moment.”

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Kathleen Breen Combes, principal dancer: “My mom gave me a ‘Nutcracker’ book for my first Christmas in 1982, and she wrote on the inside, “To my little Sugarplum Fairy, may you enjoy this story for many years to come.” She had no idea that I would become a professional dancer, and so I’ve kept this book with me, and I usually bring it to the theater with me every year. I just had a daughter, and I put it on her bookshelf, and I plan on writing in it, ‘I hope “The Nutcracker” brings you as much joy as it has to me for all these years.’ It’s going to be the first time I’m back onstage since giving birth this year. It’s been hard getting back in shape, it’s not easy, and my ballet master was saying, ‘Just think of your daughter. We’ll put her in the front wing, and you can have her be your inspiration.”

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Dawn Atkins, artist: “I always did ‘The Nutcracker’ with my ballet school, and one of the moms would collect the old pointe shoes that the older girls wore and decorate them to be like the roles that they did. So shoes from the Spanish dance would have sequins and rhinestones and red and black lace, and others would be striped like candy canes. After we performed we would get to go out to the sale table and pick out a pair of shoes that my mom would buy us, and I thought that was so fun. It brings a part of that ‘Nutcracker’ season home with you. I sometimes think it’s weird that they sell our pointe shoes — who wants to buy a pair of old shoes? — but I remember what it meant to me, the fact that these are an actual dancer’s pair of shoes and she performed an important role in them.”

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Boston Ballet’s Lauren Herfindahl (center) in “The Nutcracker.”
Boston Ballet’s Lauren Herfindahl (center) in “The Nutcracker.”(Liza Voll)

Lauren Herfindahl, artist: I grew up here in the city, and I loved the Boston Ballet. I watched every single performance, and I was in the school. My favorite dancer in the company was Larissa Ponomarenko, and when I got to be Clara in 2007 and she was the Sugarplum Fairy, I just remember being so overwhelmed. As Clara, you sit on a throne during the second act, and being there while she was dancing onstage was just the most amazing experience. Being so close to that much artistry was amazing. Now I get to work with her every day because she’s a ballet master, which is absolutely a dream come true.”

Lia Cirio, principal dancer: “‘Nutcracker’ is the main reason I started dancing. I grew up outside Philadelphia, and my mom got tickets to ‘The Nutcracker’ from her boss. I was 3 and I just remember getting all dressed up in my little peacoat and my cute stockings and red dress and just falling in love with the character Clara and thinking, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be her.’ My mom got me a little Nutcracker doll, and I used to sleep with it. The first production I did I was 9, and I was a mouse. Then the next year I was a soldier and the year after that I got en pointe and I was Clara, so finally that dream came true. I can’t do Clara anymore, but every time I go out there for the Sugarplum Fairy or something I’m always thinking of the little girl that’s out there dreaming of being Clara.”

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Interviews are condensed and edited. Carly Sitrin can be reached at carly.sitrin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carlysitrin