Atlanta Ballet’s dancers, staff, patrons and parents’ favorite memories

By Kristi Casey Sanders

The Nutcracker not only is a family tradition; it is a dance tradition. From the people who help make it happen every year, here are some reflections on Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker .

The Nutcracker and Atlanta

“Every Friday night at the Municipal Auditorium they used to have wrestling. This was 1960, ’61 [the first year Atlanta Ballet presented Balanchine’s Nutcracker ]. The story that I was told was that one of the regular wrestling fans came up to the box office and asked, ‘Who’s going on tonight?’ The box office person said, ‘The Nutcracker .’ The fan said, ‘I’ve never heard of him. Whew! Give me two tickets.’”
— Lynda Courts, Atlanta Ballet patron and dancer in the company’s first Nutcracker

The Nutcracker’s children

“We want to bring as many young people into the process as possible. For The Nutcracker , we fill the dance studio with children from all over Metro Atlanta. They all have to work together, respond to each other and trust each other. We have 60-70 youngsters in The Nutcracker and we have five casts. Can you imagine rehearsing 350 kids?

“What I am committed to are those youngsters, because they are the future leadership for the arts. They will be leaders in the future of Atlanta.”
John McFall, Atlanta Ballet’s artistic director

“People ask, ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ Well, we’re doing The Nutcracker . We don’t have a Christmas tradition or a Christmas break.”
Nikki LaRoussa, mother of two Nutcracker children who commute from South Georgia every year

“[At home], I dance maybe 3 ½ hours a week because I have so much homework. [With Atlanta Ballet] I dance 4 ½ hours on Friday and 2 ½ hours on Saturday, not including Nutcracker rehearsals [which are 12-3 p.m. on Sundays].

“The Nutcracker is so much fun. There are so many funny parts. Every time I take a rest, I take a peak at the audience … it’s so great to see them smiling.”
— James LaRoussa, Atlanta Ballet pre-professional student and Nutcracker child

“We went to see The Nutcracker and [my son] said, ‘I want to do that next year. What do I need to do to get there?’ He’d been dancing for three to four years and I went to the Atlanta Ballet site and saw that they were having auditions for a summer camp. Every year he and his brothers’d go to boy camp and last year he didn’t go to boy camp, he’d gone to ballet camp instead. Suddenly, I’m packing a different kind of trunk. And I looked at his list, and he always just danced in bike shorts and I’m looking at what he needs and I realized I didn’t know what he needed. I had to call the Atlanta Ballet and ask them, ‘What do you guys wear underneath those tights?’ and I thought, ‘OK, we’re heading down a different path.'”
— Patty Brantley, mother of a Nutcracker child

The Nutcracker dancers

“A dancer’s life revolves around The Nutcracker . The Nutcracker is kind of like the sun that everyone revolves around. And, by the time your career is over, you have danced it thousands of times, doing 30 shows a year or more.”
— John Welker, Atlanta Ballet dancer

“If you do it every year … you have a chance to improve. You can grow and work on things and think about your artistry. Fun things [always happen] with the costumes. One time in the chef scene, somebody’s hat came off onstage, and sometimes somebody loses a moustache.

“I think it holds a Christmas tradition that holds a special place for people. I don’t think that they know we do different shows. I think it’s just a holiday tradition. The same reason why we eat Thanksgiving dinner every year and we look forward to it every year.”
— Nicole Johnson, Atlanta Ballet dancer

A lot of people get sick of it. I love it. I look forward to it. I like being able to come back to a role and change it, make it better. Christmas is a magic time. For me, Christmas is not Christmas without The Nutcracker . John McFall does try and change it a bit every year. The audience, when they leave the theater, has a good feeling. They feel better than when they came in.

The company tries to do a few practical jokes here and there, especially the last performance. During the party scene, they’ll pass something around. Sometimes, if they’re playing a specific part, they’ll wear a weird wig or do something goofy.

“As much as [the children in the show] say we inspire them, they inspire us, too. I love seeing how into it they get and what it means to them. What a big deal it is. Every December, we live in the theater.”
— Courtney Necessary, Atlanta Ballet dancer

Nutcracker is something that I’ve been doing every year of my life since I’ve been eight years old. It’s the same music, same choreography, some costumes, same story, so you really have to work to keep it new and fresh and exciting. You need to make it new and better so you don’t get comfortable and bored, because it shows.

“The holiday time is all about tradition. The Nutcracker has integrated itself into being a tradition, plus it’s always such a childhood fantasy, especially for little girls, of turning into a ballerina, I mean, what’s better than that? And it’s a tradition that goes back to keeping traditions alive … having a positive outlook and a fresh outlook every year

“We always have our little secrets going on onstage, especially during the party scene because they’re character roles. We’re always playing little games like passing something around and whoever’s left over at the end of the act holding it, has to pay $5 or something. The Baby Doll and the Soldier Doll have wigs on and when they partner each other, sometimes their wigs get caught together and it’s funny seeing them trying to untangle their wigs while still in character.

“The story of Maria is a young girl in the studio … there are young girls around us all the time, looking up to us and playing out the story of a young girl dreaming about being a princess, and [they are] dreaming about being us one day.”
— Ashley Judge, Atlanta Ballet dancer

Atlanta Ballet’s The Nutcracker plays The Fabulous Fox Theatre from Dec. 1-29, 2007. For more stories and behind-the-scenes memorabilia, pick up a copy of The Nutcracker Souvenir Program , available in the Fox Theatre lobby.