By Amanda Marino
The cast of the Nutcracker performs during rehearsal at the Musical Arts Center on Monday.
Laughter echoes down the backstage hallway of the Musical Arts Center as upbeat music plays, preparing the dancers for another dress rehearsal.
Costume racks line both sides of the narrow hall, and people with perfect hair and makeup rush back and forth with their arms full of
A number of children also bustle around backstage as they prepare for a show that will soon be for them what it is for most of the other dancers: a tried and true classic.
IU’s Ballet Department will perform “The Nutcracker” at 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the MAC.
For dancers such as senior Matthew Rusk, performing in “The Nutcracker” has become something of a Christmas tradition.
Rusk performed in the show with a variety of groups every year since he was 8 years old, including all four years at IU.
It was the first ballet he ever saw.
The show has inspired other dancers as well, such as senior Maura Bell and junior Alexandra Hartnett.
Bell said “The Nutcracker“ was also the first ballet she saw, and it made her want to be a dancer. She has performed the show about 15 times since then.
Now, she said she hopes this performance will inspire people in the same way.
Hartnett said she had a similar experience, first seeing “The Nutcracker” at age 8 when her friend’s older sister was performing.
“That was when I decided I loved to dance,” she said.
Hartnett said performing the show is nostalgic for her now.
“The main thing is that it’s kind of one of those traditions,” Hartnett said.
Dancers in wide party dresses trudge up the narrow spiral staircase. They struggle to hold up their skirts as they ascend to the stage and take their places in the wings behind the MAC’s deep purple curtain.
Whispering back and forth as the orchestra warms up and tunes, directors and tech operators sit at a tech table in the house.
A voice booms over the speaker system. It welcomes an imaginary audience to the show and makes the dress rehearsal feel even more like the real thing.
Rusk, who is performing six different roles, said one of the most challenging roles for him is the Cavalier.
This is the second time he has performed this role, he said, and despite its challenges, the feeling of accomplishment is amazing and makes the time spent rehearsing worthwhile.
He said it is one of the most challenging roles a male ballet dancer can take on because of the technique required to execute it.
The dancers have spent up to 25 hours a week working on technique and rehearsing the show since the beginning of October.
A typical day consists of technique practice from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then rehearsal of the show from 1:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. after a brief lunch break.
Rusk said the rehearsal process for this show is different from others because it is such a classic piece.
Learning the choreography takes a day or so, and then the focus of rehearsals falls on clarifying the details and perfecting the technique used in the show, Rusk said.
After that, full run-throughs happen regularly, even though the dancers don’t start performing onstage until the week of the show.
Hartnett said she is also in a repeat role as a sugar plum fairy.
Hartnett said one of her goals is to embody the character more while also working on the Arabian, a role that is completely new to her in terms of style and movement.
Hartnett said a dancer is worrying not just about herself, but also about all the other moving parts and people onstage with her.
She said every little detail is important.
“For me, the energy is always very exhilarating,” Bell said. “We’re really tight-knit, super supportive,” she said. “We love dancing with each other,” she said.
Rusk also shared his perception of the performance. He said when he gets on the stage, he senses the audience and feels their support, as well as the support from the other dancers.
“It’s just a really powerful experience when you’re in it,” he said.
Rusk also said he was sorry to perform his last version of IU’s “Nutcracker” and plans to give the best performance he can.
“I’m really sad this is my last year doing this particular version,” he said.
Though Hartnett is not graduating yet, she said IU’s ballet is wonderful for the community.
It is good to use as an introduction to ballet, and the fact that it happens on campus makes it even more accessible to students and people in the community, she said.
A party is in full swing onstage. Children play with toys, and dancers act as dolls, putting on a show for them.
Adults glide gracefully across the floor, long skirts dusting the ground around them.
When the nutcracker is presented to the children, they show wild enthusiasm, especially Clara, the nutcracker’s proud new owner.
Soon, the party draws to a close after a festive
Guests clear off the stage, and two servants seek a drink from glasses not fully emptied.
The stage falls nearly silent as a single light rests on the nutcracker.
Clara creeps back on stage in her nightgown and looks at the figurine.
She takes him with her back to her room and falls asleep, not knowing that even more Christmas magic is yet to come.
© Indiana Daily Student 2014