Backstage with PNB 'Nutcracker' kids
An interview with five young cast members of Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker, " which commences its holiday run on Friday, Nov. 25. Interviewed are Olivia Carpenter, Theo DePina, Carlin Kramer, Kuu Sakuragi and Deepika Wilson.
Seattle Times arts writer
Cast of charactersYOUNG DANCERS interviewed for this article:
Olivia Carpenter: From North Seattle, dancing in her first "Nutcracker," age 9.
Theo DePina: Ballard, fourth "Nutcracker," age 10.
Carlin Kramer: West Seattle, eighth "Nutcracker," age 16.
Kuu Sakuragi: Eastside, second "Nutcracker," age 13.
Deepika Wilson: South Seattle, fifth "Nutcracker," age 14.
'Nutcracker'Performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet, Friday-Dec. 27, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $28-$123 adults, $26-$113 ages 12 and younger (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
Three mice, a toy-theater boy and a small servant, minus costumes, gathered in a Pacific Northwest Ballet conference room earlier this month to talk about the production that will dominate their holiday season. They are five of the 219 PNB School students cast in this year's "Nutcracker," ranging from a 9-year-old newcomer to a 16-year-old veteran of eight productions. Here are some highlights from the conversation, with the giggling (from the dancers and the interviewer) edited out.
In September, about 300 young dancers gathered at Pacific Northwest Ballet's Phelps Center to try out for 88 roles, which are shared among the 219 selected. Here's how they describe audition process:
Carlin Kramer, 16: It's basically by age and level. You get a number and they give you steps that are in the "Nutcracker," so they can see where you're at.
Olivia Carpenter, 9: For me, I knew what all the steps were, but for the boys in my age group, they had a step that they had never learned.
Theo DePina, 10: When we were doing this one step, I did something wrong and [the auditioners] told me to do it again. They helped me a little bit to make it better.
Carlin: A big portion [of the PNB School] gets in, but there's only so many parts, so there are always some who don't get in.
The students begin with just once-a-week rehearsals; it becomes more concentrated as opening date gets closer.
Olivia: Once you start again, it comes all back to your mind.
Some of the dancers are cast in the same role for a second year, such as Theo, who'll be in the Toy Theater scene again this year.
Theo: A lot of the boys have done [Toy Theater] many times. Usually the girls do it once or twice and then they get cast in another role. Most parts I remembered. Some parts I kind of forgot. The hardest part for some people [to learn] were the bows. Some people would bend all the way down, and some people just nod their head.
Costumes and props
Costume fittings happen early, but they rarely involve a lot of work because the casting team meticulously chooses dancers who will fit the costumes.
Kuu Sakuragi, 13: For the Mouse King costume, we wear big fluffy pants, and a pillow pad to make you look fatter, and a long vest. I haven't tried on the head yet.
Deepika Wilson, 14: The mouse heads are kind of like a construction-worker hat — you can tighten it. Otherwise, there'd be mouse heads flying everywhere!
Olivia: The lanterns [carried by servants tall and small] are really heavy. They have a little switch underneath the green part. You just flip it and the light turns on.
Deepika: When I was a party girl [in Act 1], we'd bring in our own stuffed animals to use. Just for practice.
Young "Nutcracker" dancers give up a lot to be a part of the show. So do their parents, who must agree in advance to make sure their child attends every scheduled rehearsal and performance.
Carlin: Basically your whole Christmas season is "Nutcracker." There's not much time you can do other stuff. Once you audition, if you get in, you're all "Nutcracker."
Deepika: The hardest part for me is balancing "Nutcracker" with school.
Kuu: The hard part is for my mom — she has to drive me every day from Bellevue to Seattle! And I have to sacrifice some stuff like parties.
Theo: My mom is one of the parent volunteers backstage. She learned that she has seen the "Nutcracker" 78 times. Every time she hears the music her eyes start to twitch.
Olivia: I usually go to California for Thanksgiving, but we'll have to have it here.
Carlin: So many things can happen! Parts of costumes sometimes fall off. One time my tiara when I was Clara fell off and I had to grab it and pin it back on. ... But if I ask my mom, "Did you see what happened?" she'll say, "No, it looked perfect."
Kuu: In the very end in Toy Theater, you spin the girl and she sits on your knee. Once, one [of the girls] spun and sat and fell backward.
Theo: During a lift [last year], one of the ballerinas hit this guy's face and he was bleeding all over.
Lessons learned from ballet
Olivia: Posture can make you prettier.
Deepika: It really helped me with focus, in the rest of my life. I can be focused more and it's helped me be more driven.
Carlin: It takes a lot of discipline and that helps with anything.
Theo: Posture and flexibility. I've been doing the splits, I do it in front of the boys in my class and they go, "Wow, how can you do that?" I go, "I'm in ballet."
When asked, four of the five say they'd like to continue dancing after they finish school. One was less sure.
Olivia: Maybe for my first couple of years as an adult, but my dream is to do something with orcas or horses.
Favorite parts of "Nutcracker"
Carlin: I think the snow scene. For a lot of people, that's just kind of the trademark of the PNB "Nutcracker." It's really magical.
Deepika: One of my favorite parts is the party scene. Everything's getting started and it's really exciting, so much happening.
Theo: I would say the last dance, when everyone comes in and does this big dance at the end. Everyone leaves, and the Clara house comes out. It's really cool watching the bed roll out from backstage.
Kuu: My favorite part is probably the orchestra. [Kuu, a musician, plays the viola.] I also like the bows, because it feels good.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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