Photo courtesy of Keith Sutter.
This will be my 25th consecutive year performing in Ron Cunningham’s The Nutcracker with the Sacramento Ballet and I still get butterflies in my stomach before each performance.
When you tell someone that you have been performing in a show for 25 years it is often met with incredulous amazement followed by, “does it ever get old?” With The Nutcracker, I can say without a doubt it absolutely does not! It never gets old believing in your dreams and working towards your goals.
Being a part of this production has always held a special place in my heart — and this year more than most. Last year I suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury — my second torn ACL in the past three years. Two knee surgeries later, I was assigned to only perform non-impact character roles and spent thousands of hours last year pouring sweat into gym workouts, ballet classes and rehearsals with both athletic and ballet trainers.
Flash forward to today, I’m once again I am filled with nerves, excitement, and anticipation for the opening night of The Nutcracker.
For the audience, dancing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy should look effortless, but in actuality, the role calls for extensive training, major stamina, and extreme pointe work control. To become the Sugar Plum Fairy there is no way around it — you must push your body to your limits and go further. (In rehearsal, I practice so hard that my face remains beet red an hour post-rehearsal!)
Similar to training for a marathon, we dancers spend months training and learning how to pace our progress with the help of our “coaches,” our Artistic Directors. Beyond the physical aspects of training, you must also embrace and embody the qualities of generosity, love, and other-worldliness. But above all else, you must transform into the Sugar Plum Fairy you’d imagined as a young child.
My first experience in The Nutcracker was that of a Christmas Doll in the epic Battle Scene of the ballet. Although I was just 5 years old, I remember the feeling of performing onstage — the butterflies in my stomach, the thrill of being part of something bigger than myself.
From Baby Bunny to Mother Ginger Child, to Party Child to Clara, to Chinese Attendant to Candy Cane, I worked my way through the children’s roles, sometimes at a slower pace than I would have liked. Over time, I grew to understand the importance of setting goals, finding healthy ways to handle setbacks, and the meaning of perseverance — and with every year, I fell more and more in love with the world of ballet.
I also became privy to the behind-the-scenes action of each show. I was constantly amazed by the amount of community teamwork and coordination it took to put on this massive holiday production. With 25+ Company and character artists, 500 children, administrative staff, wardrobe, volunteers, and stagehands involved, it is no easy feat to successfully produce The Nutcracker year after year. The Sacramento Ballet’s visionary Artistic Directors Ron and Carinne Cunningham however always bring infectious delight and charm to the show and it is an honor to work under their direction.
See Alexandra perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy this holiday season. For more information and tickets for Ron Cunningham’s The Nutcracker visit the production’s Sacramento365 listings here.