The Nutcracker: Behind the Scenes

Snow falls onstage, creating a winter snowscape. Dancers run out, leaping gracefully from one side of the stage to the other. As idyllic as this scene may appear to audience members, its organized chaos from a ballet dancer’s perspective.

On Dec. 7, 8 and 9, The Lake Arrowhead Ballet Company will perform its annual rendition of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Chelsea Quevedo, a junior at Rim of the World High School, was cast as the lead role of Clara. With ten years of ballet experience, Cabello will be performing in her seventh Nutcracker. Hoping to bring a unique spark to her role, she spent last summer preparing by watching YouTube videos of Clara.

“I did my homework. When I first got my letter I was really shocked. I was so excited,” she said. 

Clara undergoes a significant character change over the course of the dance. Her journey begins as a sassy, toy-obsessed girl. When her brother breaks her doll, she grows angry and sad. Through her grieving process, she discovers other magical things about the world around her and sheds her bratty attitude for a more mature demeanor.

The process of developing the character has been an equally dynamic journey for Chelsea. 

She channeled her childhood wants and desires to find Clara’s motivation. Drawing upon memories of toys that she had asked her mother to buy, Chelsea gradually pieced together a backstory for her character. 

“Every step I take during the performance, I want it to be like a picture,” Chelsea said. 

That’s a high standard to set, but she has support from the ninety-three other dancers, including fellow dancers and juniors from Rim High: Amelia Brotzler and Hannah Lira. 

Amelia dazzled audiences in 2018 with her performance as Clara. This year, she will play Spanish, Snow, Dewdrop, and Fairy.

Growing up, Amelia said she admired the sparkling tutus and pretty shoes of the princesses in Barbie movies. She credits this as the initial allure to ballet. 

Despite moving from the lead to a handful of supporting roles, Amelia believes Dewdrop has helped her grow as a ballet dancer. Though Dewdrop only briefly appears on stage, she does so in a solo act. Amelia said the role challenged her, as she found it difficult to embody the confidence that epitomizes the character. 

Both Amelia and Hannah will also dance together as the “Spanish.” They credit their close friendship outside of ballet as contributing to the collaborative nature of the dance rather than the usual competitive edge.

“It’s so much fun,” Amelia said. “We’re trying to be the best we can (be) together.”

“It’s comfortable. It’s not stressful. We can just breath and dance it out,” Hannah echoed.  

This year marks Hannah’s fifth Nutcracker performance. Though she is also cast as a Spanish dancer, Snow, and Waltz, she said she feels most connected with the character Mirliton. Like Amelia, she said the role has helped her feel more confident with herself.

The graceful sautes and releves Nutcracker audiences are certain to see are the culmination of months of grueling practices.  

“They don’t see the rehearsals, the tears and the bleeding feet,” Amelia said. 

Preparation work begins the second week of September when the girls start weekly rehearsals. These practices are grueling and wearing on their bodies. Dancers must push past the initial pain and adjust to the rigorous schedule. When the performance begins, the constant running on and off stage requires the dancers to have built endurance both physically and mentally. 

“It’s hard being a dancer, looking in the mirror and seeing that everything is not as perfect as you want it,” Amelia said. “But then you have to put on this act [to make people think] everything is perfect.” 

The constant mental nitpicking and incremental advancement of raising one’s skill level makes the dancing process even more challenging. 

“[You have to] make yourself appear like the queen you have to be. It’s a very interesting journey,” Hannah added. 

That makes the performance itself all the more important to the girls.

The younger students, or “Littles,” help Chelsea, Hannah and Amelia remember that, even though they might be having a difficult day, there are people who look up to and admire them.

“It’s always a joy to get to the studio and all the little girls are coming up and hugging you,” Amelia said, laughing. “It brings you up. Maybe, if you’re not happy with yourself at the moment, someone else is watching you and they think you’re amazing.”

“It makes you feel better about what you’re doing,” Chelsea said about the “Littles.” “I’m inspiring others to do what I love and you realize how important you are to others.” 

On the day of the performance, the girls say they are full of butterflies and tingles. The onstage and backstage atmosphere adds to the exhilaration the girls experience.

“You can hear people in the audience – you can hear little kids when they giggle or gasp. You can hear it all,” Amelia said.

Amelia said she feels it’s inspiring to know her performance is making people react and feel an emotion. 

“It makes you feel like all the pain — all the times you wanted to give up but you kept pushing through it — that it was worth it to see that somebody is so affected by the picture you painted,” Hannah said. 

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