Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a local production of The Nutcracker, that magical and classic holiday ballet? Here's an inside look into the emotion and action that happens backstage, offstage and through the months leading up to the performance.
The journey to the Nutcracker begins long before the curtain rises. The Wilton Dance Studio will perform its 16th annual Nutcracker on December 8th, 2013. The show includes a cast of more than 100 dancers from seven area towns. They are nearly all students (plus a few parents as well!) who range in age from three to 18 years old, and each has a special story about being part of the show.
Starting in the spring and summer, visions of sugarplums are already dancing in several heads. Elyse Cowles, a Joel Barlow High School junior from Redding who plays the Snow Queen this year, said, “The Nutcracker is something everybody looks forward to. Literally the second the curtain comes down on our June show, we all turn around and say “It’s Nutcracker season!” My mom muses at how even in August, Tchaikovsky’s Snow or Sugar Plum music will be playing in our house. You could definitely say I’m a fanatic!”
For the studio’s owner and artistic director Brenda Froehlich, summer planning revolves around which sets, costumes or choreography need adjustment or even complete overhaul for the next year’s performance. “Every year it’s our goal to balance tradition and freshness in the Nutcracker. Some of our dancers and their families have been part of the show for all 16 years we’ve been performing it. We need to change and grow with them.”
Summer is also the time for costume development, an effort Froehlich treats with her personal attention. “We like to make each costume unique to our show and really special to see onstage. All of them have some handmade touch, and it’s great to see how excited the dancers are when we introduce something new.”
Advance planning is also required for the complex sets used for the many scene changes in the production. Wilton Dance Studio is known for its professional set design, made possible through a partnership with theatrical backdrop company J. Galt Designs, based in Wilton and owned by Mark Froehlich. He is co-owner of the studio with his wife. “The sets are refreshed because we strive to make the backdrops lavish, colorful and professional. It takes planning to make sure the art is ready.” The Froehlichs credit the Wilton High School’s Clune Center for Performing Arts for giving them the space the show needs each year to put on a high-quality and complex production.
As fall begins, it’s time to start dancing. Auditions for the Nutcracker take place in mid-September. While every student who wants one gets a part, it’s competitive for the leading roles. Olivia Seal, 11, from Ridgefield, is playing the lead role of Clara this year. Seal said of her preparation for the audition that won her the special part, “I’ve been taking ballet since I was three. I took classes this past summer too. I also watched the previous years of the Nutcracker to be familiar with the dances.”
With the cast decided, it’s time to get to work on the ballet itself, which has new choreography integrated into it each year to match the dancers’ ability and keep the show fun for the audience. The time commitment is rehearsals nearly every weekend and some weeknights from late September through the day of the performance on December 8th. Said Seal, “The time commitment is challenging. During Nutcracker season, I’m in the studio six days a week for regular classes, as well as rehearsals. “
Madeleine Woodworth, a Wilton High School senior who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy this year, said the show is helps her manage other pressures: “I am a senior and I have countless college applications to complete in addition to my homework and stretching to keep up my flexibility. Dance is the best escape for me. I get to leave behind all of my schoolwork when I walk into the studio, and focus on dance and only dance.”
In November and December, it’s all about the details. Costume fittings, performance polishing and other details are the focus to ensure a perfect outcome. The Wilton Dance Studio’s production of The Nutcracker will be held on Sunday, December 8th with performances at 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm at the Clune Center for the Performing Arts at Wilton High School. Tickets are available from the studio http://www.wiltondance.com/ or at the theater on the day of the show. A ticket order form is available online as well: http://wiltondance.com/wdsmedia/2013_Nutcracker_Ticket_Order_Form.pdf
Contact the studio at 203-544-9007.