I’m going on about this because it’s fresh in my mind. I’m about to go to the theater to perform the lead Candy Cane in an evening performance of the Nutcracker. It’s a great role but it is quite stressful at the same time. You must get through the hoop! On the other hand, performing it is loads of fun. But one small mistake and the hoop ends up not going where it’s supposed to
go. The Candy Cane dance lasts around a minute and five seconds. For this minute and five seconds, I have to prepare for at least an hour and a half. Yes, that’s right: it’s a lot! And there’s really no way around it.
I get to the theater no less than half an hour before the performance starts, change into warmups and begin my makeup. My basic performance makeup takes around eight minutes. Then I’ll either stretch or walk down a flight of stairs to the hair and makeup room where I need to get my cap securely pinned to my hair. There are A LOT of wigs and headpieces in the production and there is often a line. I may have to come back. The Candy Cane cap is like a yarmulke with jingle bells. It comes with an elastic strap for the chin, but many of us prefer to have it pinned to avoid the constriction.
With my cap pinned I’ll go up to the practice room on the fifth floor where I like to warm up during the first act of the Nutcracker. I’ll often have the whole studio to myself, which is awesome. I know I’m running late if the Party Scene’s “Grandfather Dance” has started before I begin pliés. That’s my indicator! I’ll spend about 20-30 minutes at the barre and even do a few tendus in the center of the room if I have enough time. Next I go downstairs to my dressing room, get zipped into my striped, jingly suit, and then walk three more flights down to the stage level. Once there, I continue to warm up and I begin to jump.
The Candy Cane dance consists almost entirely of jumps. The hoop is made of wood. Your body is constantly twisting, so it’s only natural that all of us warm up for it by practicing a particularly twisty diagonal passage until we feel as though we are “ready” and we could almost do the whole dance. It’s important not to peak too soon!! After all, the dance doesn’t happen until about 10 minutes into the second act. Before I go on I always talk a little bit with the eight hoop girls from the School of American Ballet. They are all such pros. Then I run out, dancing like it’s a very happy one-hundred-yard dash, get really tired, and then it’s over! It either went well or it didn’t, but hopefully well!!
The Candy Cane role is especially important to me. I took my first real ballet class when I was 13. I had only a little bit of training, nothing like what a 13 year old at SAB would have. This first class was at the Atlanta Ballet, and I had asked to take it. It was taught by a man named Bobby whose voice and arms were expansive and intimidating. I was surrounded by six of their most advanced dancers. In the class I was a disaster. It moved too fast for me and there were steps I had never even seen before. I was embarrassed, but it was at that moment that I was drawn into ballet’s immense challenge. I was going to do whatever it took to be good at this and I fell in love with ballet.
That first class of mine was taught by Robert Barnett, who originated the role of Candy Cane in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.