It felt bizarre to perform the Nutcracker in the summer, but it was somehow fitting—for my role at least. After all, the skirted Arabian bikini is infinitely more appropriate attire for August than it is for December. It was the first time I wasn’t shivering backstage beforehand! I also had a decent tan from a recent trip to Grand Cayman, so I didn’t feel like such a vampire for once. But even more fun was dancing such a sultry piece in the lazy days of summer.
Balanchine’s Arabian choreography is a bizarre mix of heavy grand allegro jumps and sustained, adagio développés. Sometimes there are quick steps for every note in a triplet—like in the opening stage crossings which always make me think of Tina Turner in Proud Mary. But sometimes there is
In a role reversal, the orchestra was seated on the stage and we danced on a makeshift platform built out over where the orchestra pit normally is during ballet performances. It was somewhat difficult to space our dancing in such a wide yet shallow area, but it was exhilarating to have the orchestra at our backs. The sound came out and through us. To accommodate the space I simply made some extra curlicues in the choreography when I did not have room to travel. The weirdest part of the staging for me was performing in such bright lights. The Arabian solo is usually done in darkness with a moody follow spotlight so it was funny to be able to see the audience and the orchestra (and my own limbs!) so clearly. Ask and Rebecca had to make concessions in the grand pas too. Ask kept lifting Rebecca backwards in lifts that should have moved forward. It was amusing as glimpsed from the side, but I’m sure that it was unnoticeable from the front. Anthony miraculously accomplished his traveling jumps through his hoop on a dime. We all laughed backstage at each other’s spatial tweaks.
One of Balanchine’s innovations in the Arabian solo was the addition of finger cymbals worn by the dancer. It is one of my favorite aspects of the role. Balanchine left the musicality of the cymbals un-choreographed; so there is tremendous artistic license. But I was a little nervous about playing the cymbals with such an esteemed group. Because the finger cymbals are not technically in Tchaikovsky’s score—and this was the PO’s gig much more than a NYCB affair—I wasn’t even sure they would want me to use them. But maestro Tovey and the musicians were open and gracious and they encouraged me to do my percussive improv.
Conductor Bramwell Tovey was charming and hilarious. His brassy voice was perfect as he narrated Peter and the Wolf. And he introduced the program with a wide-ranging speech that included a personal apology for the Battle of Saratoga as well as mockery of Rimsky-Korsakov’s groupies. He joked with the crowd, “he’s a decomposer now!” Maestro Tovey and the Philadelphia Orchestra were a delight to work with. I would pretend it was Christmas in any month in order to perform with them again!