Kids See The Nutcracker for the first time

I know, I know, ‘The Nutcracker’??

With the Tchaikovsky music blasting in every commercial and department store, and with pretty much every ballet company in the U.S. performing their rendition around this time, do we really need to talk about it?

Turns out it’s worth revisiting with a few key ingredients:

  1. The version you are seeing is George Balanchine’s,’ The Nutcracker’ performed by the dazzling New York City Ballet accompanied by a full, live orchestra in the glorious David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center

2. The audience consists of a packed  house of elementary school children from the public schools of New York, most of whom are experiencing live dance for the first time.

getting ready to witness the Nutcracker


It’s fun to re-open the gift of this ballet when experiencing it with someone who has not seen/danced/reviewed in a million times. Also, it’s just a stunning production.

I am currently half-way through a residency with elementary school classroom’s in one of New York City Ballet’s Education Program ‘The Nutcracker Project’. During this residency, I visit their classrooms and we generate a warm-up dance which incorporates ballet and creative movement inspired by The Nutcracker. We also create a collaborative poem and then a group dance for sharing.

I never thought I would live a life where I get to work in Lincoln Center. This is me hanging out by the fountain before a teacher workshop

Up the steps to the Rose Building, which houses the Juilliard studios, School of American Ballet, New York City Ballet, and more

We also then invite the students to come to Lincoln Center to see the professional version of the show. If you are like me, and seeing kids delight in the magic of stagecraft, music, and dance feels like the best present you could receive, then this was Xmas/ Hanukah/ Kwanza come early.

I have never been around an audience more excited by every little thing that happened. Did they cheer and collectively roar ‘whoooooooaaaaa!!!!’ when the tree grows to it’s magnificent 41 feet? (yes, it gets that tall) Of course they did!

Were there actual screams of fright on sight of the first rat (who was clearly an extremely professional female, with beautiful legs and feet, in gray tights and a sort of bean-bag shaped mouse body costume)? Oh yes, there were.

Did they go insane for every big lift, every partnered turn, every feat of brilliance? Most of them. They were less-enthusiastic about the highly-technical Sugar Plum pas de deux. I was shocked that the audience went nuts (pun intended) over the Marzipan which is usually the throw-away, challenging, audience non-favorite. I think this one was popular because:

  1. They could clap along with the music. Have I ever heard anyone clap along with Merlitons/Marzipan before? No. Do I mind at all? Nope.
  2. Those costumes! The Balanchine Nutcracker has very few classical tutus. Dew Drop doesn’t wear one, even Sugar Plum doesn’t wear one for the first part of Act 2 when she does her variation. The Marzipan look like bouncing cakes, the layer of tool is a thicker shape. Also, they dye their pointe shoes various candy colors. One girl has yellow pointe shoes. Glorious!
  3. The dancing is truly amazing. The lead has some absolutely killer toe-hops in attitude. I think jumping up and down on candy-colored pointe shoes would impress both the novice and even the snobbiest of judges (who are you lookin’ at?).

This audience reminded me of what it is to experience theater for the first time. They erupted into squeals of delight when the lights dimmed as the performance began, when the curtain rose, at each scene change with a new backdrop. It’s easy when you’ve gone to the theater so many times how magical it is to see a stage transformed into kingdoms of sweets, snowy forests, to see kids and adults telling a story.

To be swept away by a story on stage is to be put right back in that state of childlike wonder, of belief in the magical, the beautiful, the impossible. I fully admit that I still feel this from ‘The Nutcracker’ but being surrounded by actual children’s wonder and delight makes it even better.

Want more Nutcracker Magic?:

I am so honored to be a part of the New York City Ballet Education Department and so thrilled to have experienced the shared gift of The Nutcracker.

I even got to bring friends! Here I am with my ballet diva friends Lindsey and Dasha

I can’t wait to ask them which character the enjyed ost which of the 150 costumes they’d like to try on.

Follow-up to follow. Wow, that was redundant.

Eh, it’s the Nutcracker. If the pointe shoe fits, wear it.

How Ballet Companies Make Money; The Nutcracker

For most ballet companies, The Nutcracker is the bread and butter of the season, the way they financially manage to stay afloat. This would probably be even easier if they had some sort of corporate sponsorship.

Do you want to know what one of my favorite yearly traditions is?

For the past six or seven years, I have written a fake Nutcracker cast list- usually casting my friends as ugly characters, made up parts, adding celebrity appearances, and putting myself as Rat Queen (I never did get the part). It started at Butler University my sophmore year with my best friend Emily and I’ve since become addicted to demoting the best dancers to ‘M0ther Ginger legs’ or making Professors things ike ‘The Swan Boat Captain’.

Anyways, this looks like the first year in I don’t know how many that I won’t be in a Nutcracker. I was actually asked to guest as Sugar Plum with a local studio here, but I haven’t had my pointe shoes on in months so I won’t be de-gracing any stages. I think it turns out that I love the tradition of a snarky cast list more than I love being a snowflake anyways. I only like being a flake when it comes to social engagements.

I’ve cast my old company- Missouri Ballet Theatre- amidst this one that is SURE TO MAKE MONEY!  How, you say?

Two words; product placement. Enjoy!

Planter’s Peanuts and Ritz-Cracker Proudly Present:

The Nut-cracker

Sponsored by: Ritz, Planters, Barbie, Coca Cola, Cracker Barrel, the Alaskan Government, Penguin Books, St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Cardinals, Edwards Jones Dome, Cracker-Jack, Disney, Coca Cola, Splenda, Liberty Medical, NBC, Apple, Pf Changs, Playtex, and the Food Network

Note* all understudies should be present at each rehearsal should assigned cast members be injured, jailed, not aware that they are in the show as we could not reach their agents, or fictional

love from her Majesty the Queen JessRat

Act 1- Scene 1: The Party

Clara: celebrity guest Ciara. Understudy: Dexter Bishop

Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

Godfather Drosselmeier: Planter’s Peanut Man. Understudy: Caitlin Birt

Fritz: Ritz-Cracker Spokesperson Wyclef Jean. (I am not kidding on this. Google it. Apparently, crackers DO have a place in hip hop)

Party Moms and Dads: local shot-girls/ Brand ambassadors. Colin Helton.

Barbie Doll: Project Runway’s Laura Kathleen. Understudy: Irene

Act 1 Scene 2. The Battle:

The Nutcracker– TBA after auditions held at Cracker Barrel

Rat king– st. Louis cardinals rally squirrel/Justin beaver…I mean beiber. Understudy: Matt

Soldiers– st. Louis sports teams:  rams/ cards, and cracker-jack sellers

Rats: all down on their luck actors across the country portraying mickey at amusement parks (a job’s a job!)

Act 1. Scene 3. The Snow Scene:

Snow Queen: Alaskan govn. Sarah Palin or Tina Fey. understudy: Sarah Grace Austin

Coca Cola Polar Bear: Laurent Beasley McCart

Corps of Penguins (Books Publishing icons): Katie Howland and classmates from school

Act 2. Kingdom of the Sweets:

Sugar-free Sugar Plum Fairy- (The splenda fairy) – Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper. Understudy: Lydia

The splenda cavalier– Wilford Brimley, diabetes spokesman. Understudy:  Robert

Spanish olives: Paz Vega ; Javier Bardem ; Antonio Banderas ; Penelope Cruz

Arabian: nbc peacock- Understudy: Jenny Rice

Chinese:  Chef PF Chang. Understudy: Ashley

Dance of the Maxipads (marzipan):Sarah and Rachel

Mother Butter– Paula Dean. Understudy: Jessica Ruhlin

Waltz of the ipods: w/ Mountain Dew Drop Fairy– Apple Employees with Caitlin Helton

(I drew costumes, but I’ll add the pictures at a later date. You know, when the Groupon for tickets is available 🙂  )


The MockCracker Cast List

My favorite thing about the annual production of ‘The Nutcracker’ at Butler University was the posting of the cast list. Oh no, not the REAL one.. I’m talking about the fake one posted by my best friend Emily and I an anonymous source.


In this list, we downgraded the best dancers to rats, made the Angels in the opening of act two Victoria Secret Angels, made the tan people snowflakes,  and invented divertissement such as the ‘Iraqian pas de deux’ and cast a favorite teacher as Osama. Oh yes, that happened. I also made myself Rat QUeen three years in a row.

I am thrilled, after a two-year hiatus, to be performing ‘The Nutcracker’ again.Here is the greatest question ever asked of a dancer by their director:

Jess, which do you want to be, Sugar Plum or Snow Queen?”

To which my answer was of course, ‘I’ll do both!’ -most selfish answer ever. Hey, if you can’t be Rat Queen…


 I fully admit that dancing the role of the Sugar PLum Fairy as a professional has been on my dance bucket list and I’m excited that I have the opportunity to cross it off this year. I get to wear my pointe shoes, a gorgeous tutu, and reflect upon my early memories as an eight year dancing the role of a soldier and polichinelle with State Ballet of Missouri (now known as Kansas City Ballet) and wishing to some day be the Sugar Plum. I remember that feeling of delight and wonder and hope that there might be one child in our audience that has that same feeling when Common Thread takes the Stage at the Foundry in Saint Charles on Saturday, November 16th.


Without further adieu, I present my ideal cast list for ‘The MockCracker’- with love and laughter for all dance lovers, dance creators, and dancers in St. Louis

(Previous Nutcracker Fun: A Product Placement Nutcracker– wow, my drawing has improved!)

Act 1

Clara- Jeff MItchell of Madco (understudy Sam Mitchell)

Fritz- Sam Mitchell of Madco (understudy Jeff Mitchell)

Grandfather Drosselmeyer- Dance St. Louis Artistic Director, Michael Uthoff

Party Parents: audience members in attendance at Dance New Horizons

Party Children: All dance students of everyone on this list (that’s a huuuuge party) Understudy: members of Congress

Well Sam is happy about it (Dine on Dance 2013)

Well Sam is happy about it (Dine on Dance 2013)

Rat King- Jessica Ruhlin

Nutcracker Prince- Uri Sands (understudy Jessica Ruhlin)

Rats: Pam Swaney, Lauren Lane, Lori Wilson of StLB/ Rachel Kilsavage, Lydia Phillips, Emily Woods of MBT/ Morgan Cameron of Big Muddy


Soldiers: Sarah Thompson from Dance St. Louis, all board members of every dance company ever

Dog Army: Jennifer Medina’s chihuahua Tobey/ Gen Huriuchi’s dog Cesar (understudy: Jessica Ruhlin’s cat Avery/ all extra-large lint balls from dirty studios)

IMG_8471 IMG_8163

Snow Queen: Nejla Yatkin wearing that amazing white outfit from opening night of DNH/ ALice Bloch

Snow King: St. Louis Doppler Radar (understudy Robert Poe of BM)

Snow Flakes: all of Leverage Dance THeater (since they have the paper snowball making down to a science)

The Queen Herself (Dine on Dance, 2013)

The Queen Herself (Dine on Dance, 2013)

I am KING!

I am KING!

Act 2- the Kingdom of the Sweets

Sugar Plum Fairy- TBA after children’s audition (understudy Kate Rouzer of StLB)

Cavalier-Cardinals superstar Yadier Molina (understudy Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford/ random bums off the street)

Mother Ginger: Erin Lane of Leverage Dance Theatre/ Janele Oros/ Tara WF Cacciatore

Mother Ginger Children: actual children of mother ginger, Elliot Geolat, Erik Hoffman of StLB, Tricia Zweier of Leverage, Jenny Battenburg of BM, Jason Gomez of MBT (other tall dancers may audition)

Arabian Coffee- coffee-lovers Mariko Kumanomido, Hannah Benditt,Jennifer Medina, and Mary VIrtue partnered by a whole lot of Starbucks baristas (understudy- Jessica Ruhlin partnered by a can of Folgers)

Chinese: supersmart Stephanie Morrow (understudy: anyone who scores a 100% on a math aptitude test)

Marzipan- Pam Auinbauh with her French Poodle, Jane and fluent French-speaker Hannah Benditt (mais oui!)

IMG_8952 IMG_9059

Drawing of Pam in what I imagine is the perfect Marzipan tutu- complete with poodles. Colored Pencil

Drawing of Pam in what I imagine is the perfect Marzipan tutu- complete with poodles. Colored Pencil

Who’s excited for rehearsal!? xo- your friend in jest (and a tutu) jess

PS -I’m excited to be hosting my first guest blogger tomorrow. Check it out!