Tomorrow night is something RB looks forward to all year — opening night of Joffrey’s The Nutcracker! One of the myriad things I love about this particular production is the way they incorporate young dancers — 116 to be exact! — into almost every scene. The dolls that come to life to help fight the mice in Battle Scene, then show up in Act 2 escorting each variation (and hanging with Clara to watch them dance), the Polichinelles that pop out from under Mother Ginger’s skirt and, of course, the children with the honor of being friends with Fritz and Clara in the Party Scene.
To be honest, I used to think of the Party Scene as the boring part (even when I was in it!) you had to get through until the real dancing started…25 minutes or so until the battle begins, but there really is a lot going on. A gift exchange, some dolls, some dancing, some drinking, some nuts being eaten, a creepy Uncle with awesome gifts, a young love story, bratty boys, pretty girls and holiday magic. Like any good party, there is planning involved (and not just in a Mrs. Dalloway kind of way). The dancers and children have been rehearsing their parts for weeks, coming together physically for the first time yesterday in the studio and again today on the stage at the Auditorium Theatre. Head planner for this party is Katie Garwood, on faculty at the Joffrey Academy of Dance and chief in charge of the kids this year.
At rehearsal, Garwood corrects a boy without missing a beat. “You think I’m kidding,” she says. “I’m not.” With over 30 kids in the room, one could get overwhelmed, but she isn’t phased (or, at least doesn’t let it show). She treats the children with respect and expects them to perform at their best. In return, the children do as requested and get the experience of a lifetime. For rehearsal, she uses a dvd of a live performance to make sure she doesn’t forget a cue. “There is so much happening in Party Scene,” says Garwood. “It’s so much more than doing the steps right.” Plus, with the applause in the audio, the kids will know much more of what to expect when finally performing in front of an audience. At Joffrey, the standards are set high and that includes the children. With classes and rehearsals, along with school, the time commitment can be daunting, but these kids don’t mind. “Only the best of the best make it,” she says, then adds, “I forget what an impact it can have.”
One of the children performing on the Auditorium stage for the first time tomorrow is Audrey Senne, who was featured on RB a few months ago here. At age 9, she is one of the youngest in the cast, as well as one of the littlest. “The little ones are such a blessing. They’re in level three at the Academy and have really good technique,” says Garwood. “They really are the leaders, since the smallest ones are always first in line.” Alternately excited and nervous for tomorrow night (“it’s about half and half”), Senne is ready. Although she finds dancing with a boy “kind of weird”, she loves dancing and can’t wait to be on stage with one of her teachers, dancer Fabrice Calmels. Look for Senne in the children’s dance (her favorite part) and dancing with an arabian doll in her arms.
The Nutcracker run through December 26. For ticket information: call 800.982.2787 or go to ticketmaster.com.
I hope these young kids, including my own, know how lucky they are. Performing at the Auditorium Theatre is an experience they will never forget. Chicago is so lucky to have the Joffrey!