This Side of Nutcracker with Sarah Wroth

peace ornament on tree

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Peace and joy go hand and hand. We wish you both as you continue through this holiday season. Today on our blog, we offer the gift of perspective from an extraordinary and beloved leader in the dance world.

With heart,

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The Other Side of Nutcracker

by Sarah Wroth

At the Jacobs School of Music, where I am in my third year as a chair, artistic coordinator and member of the artistic staff, we have just wrapped up our weekend-long Nutcracker season. I have always loved Nutcracker. It has been a huge part of my holiday life, every year, for thirty years now. There are so many elements to the practice, rehearsal, story and atmosphere of this ballet that give me warm feelings of gratitude for the glorious joy my art can create. Now positioned on the directing side of things, my eyes are also open to all kinds of nuances that enrich my appreciation for the magic of Nutcracker.

Nutcracker offers a growth chart to its dancers. This ballet visits annually for most, and with its unchanging shape, it allows artists to stand as tall as they can to see if they have grown since the previous years’ experience. In lives built from artistic opportunities, the “who does what” each year is significant. As a dancer, I constantly felt the weight of casting in my life. As a leader, I feel not only its weight, but also the importance balancing that weight throughout the group.

Leading with understanding

Here at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, it is not a dictatorship. Our faculty tends to cast by committee and our process aims to hear everyone’s voice. It is not a perfect system. There is no perfect system, and there will always be someone who feels shortchanged. In my work, I try at all times to remember my experiences as a dancer. When casting goes up, I keep my door open. Anyone seeking to better understand casting or its process has the opportunity to connect. Sometimes expressed feelings are warranted and a learning experience or application for a bigger push is granted. Sometimes, casting sparks a difficult conversation about how certain levels of studio work or personal dedication are being perceived. Casting is a giant web of learning that has huge potential for positive reinforcement of work well done.

Sharing with appreciation

My life as an artistic leader has also helped me understand the many layers of human resources involved in making the Nutcracker story a success. As a dancer, it is so challenging to lay your heart on the stage for an audience forty times in a row, but at least there is a bow at the end of each show. In these concluding moments, the performing artists are celebrated and receive joyful appreciation from the audience. As an artistic leader, I also get to FEEL these joyful reactions floating around the packed houses for Nutcracker. I get to swim in the sentiments being created. This opportunity grants me an even greater understanding of what ballet is capable of and shows me the magnificent reactions good dance can create.

But, there are so many silent heroes behind the magic and hard work visible onstage. From wardrobe staff to parent volunteers, there are countless people working on the inside of the Nutcracker machine, often working a good distance away from the joy they are creating first hand. Every successful Nutcracker performance is a collective, coordinated effort. There is certainly enough applause to go around; we simply have to remember to share appreciation with those working beyond the stage and wings.

Refueling with inspiration

Whether you are an artist or artistic staff, if you are ever in need of inspiration during the Nutcracker, you only have to lower your gaze a bit and clamp eyes with an excited child. Children – both performing and attending – are everywhere in this show, so thirsty for all the magic it brings. The children onstage are bubbling with the excitement born from the responsibility of performing and joy of interacting with their heroes – dancers older and wiser than they are. The children in the audience also bubble with excitement, ready to experience the enduring magic of Nutcracker.

Whether you are old or young, just starting your ballet career or well on the other side of physicality, this ballet creates lasting memories and sensational experiences for all involved. Long live Nutcracker and its ability to bring new ballet understanding to ALL of us.