A young dancer’s Nutcracker diary: “Opening Night”

It is my cast’s opening night of The Nutcracker. I have been rehearsing at our school, Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, for two months and at English National Ballet’s London studios at Jay Mews. With my friends I come down the stairs from the changing room right under the ball at the top of the Coliseum theatre, going carefully as the stairs are very steep. We try not to step on each other’s mouse tails as we carry our costumes into the “quick change” corridor.  Waiting in the wings with all the members of the Company dressed in their evening gowns and white tie and tails for the party scene, we listen to the orchestra warming up, and the buzz of the audience taking their seats. The sense of anticipation is incredible.

Now I am on stage in my position ready for the curtain to rise on the Christmas Eve party. It feels like being at a real party over a hundred years ago. We all keep as still as statues while the curtain rises and suddenly, with a clap of Drosselmeyer’s hands the scene springs to life. Energy animates the whole cast and the party begins. When I run forward to collect my present from Santa Claus I look forward to it every night, even though I already know what the present is!  We sit down in a circle to watch a puppet show and the character dancer who impersonates a mouse makes us laugh every time he starts his comic Scottish jig.  We girls play with the dolls we have been given, and when the boys come charging in or their hobby-horses blowing whistles, we all feel a real surge of annoyance with them. Sometimes they can be just as annoying at school!!

English National Ballet. "The Nutcracker".

Photography by Partick Baldwin

As soon as we have finished playing with our dolls we rush off stage and change into our mice costumes. It gets really hot inside them. The mice heads are very heavy and quite hard to see out of especially when the air is thick with dry ice.  In rehearsal we all bump into each other until we get used to them.  We wait in the wings for the clock to strike midnight, counting the chimes, while the drawing-room is transformed for the battle scene. During the heat of the action we sometimes get whipped by the rubber tails of the grown-up mice leaping all around us and once during the fight with the soldiers, one of the boys was hit right on target with a giant piece of foam-covered fake cheddar cheese – sometimes ballet is a contact sport!

Even while we are dodging each other and trying not to get trodden on, we are still aware of Clara’s beautiful dance with her Nutcracker. We know it so well having seen it so many times in rehearsal, but once the principal dancers are in costume it comes alive and seems so magical. As the snowflakes twirl around the stage we are standing in the box to the right singing with the orchestra.  Thank goodness the lights are low. We are back in our party costumes; but with bright-red cheeks and messed up hair from the mouse heads. Because we don’t have time to change we stand there, half-girls, half-mice, with tails sticking out from under our dresses. We are not supposed to watch the snowflakes dancing as we have to watch the conductor, but out of the corner of our eyes we see the Mouse King dangling from the hot-air balloon as it lifts Clara, Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker away into Act II.

Photography by Partick Baldwin

Half-an-hour later I step out of the stage door into the deep chill of a December night in bustling London. Huddling into my coat, I can’t believe I have just been dancing on the stage of the Coliseum alongside the principal dancers. It feels like a dream come true and I know that as long as I live I will never forget what it felt like to perform in The Nutcracker.

Marina Fraser (Aged 13)