CBC Regisseur Denise Dabrowski recently took a break from rehearsing dancers to tell us what goes into developing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and to share her personal Nutcracker story.
CBC: What do you rehearse the most in The Nutcracker?
DD: Because I mostly work with the principals and the soloists, I rehearse the pas de demux the most. It takes the most time and effort to see the pairings, the relationship between the Snow King and Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. We have to make those relationships real.
CBC: Tell us about the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen characters.
DD: I love delving into the characters! I danced all those parts: the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen. I made up a little story about who they were and what their relationship was to the partners. I also like to encourage the dancers I’m working with to come up with their own take on who these characters are. Who is the Snow Queen? Why is she a part of The Nutcracker? What is she offering in the development and maturing of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince through the story? The music is so beautiful for the Snow Scene and the partnering and choreography are very dynamic.
That’s very different from the Sugar Plum Fairy and her pas de deux with the Cavalier, which has more maturity, more generosity to it.I feel that they are an example of mature love to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, who are just falling in ove. The Sugar Plum Fairy is the ideal ballerina, the ideal woman in [her] beautiful kingdom. She’s the epitome of generosity to me.
CBC: What is your Nutcracker story?
DD: I started as a soldier. My first production was the California Ballet Company’s [first] full-length Nutcracker at the Russ Auditorium in 1971. My sisters and I all danced in The Nutcracker. We all grew up together through the California Ballet School and through The Nutcracker.
So, I was a soldier for a few years, and then I had the dream role of Clara. I worked my way through the reindeer, the lollipops, the corps de ballet dances, the dancing doll in the first act. My first major role was the understudy to the Snow Queen. Then I was able to dance Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen and Dewdrop, Merlitons and Chinese. Arabian was the dance I was able to dance the longest, being not en pointe. I was able to finish my career as a performer in The Nutcracker dancing the Arabian Dance.
I danced the Sugar Plum Fairy for 24 years in this production. That’s the longest chance I ever had for one role in any ballet, and so I felt that I was able to develop that role with many different partners, different orchestras, different conductors. I really got a chance to feel like I was able to make it my own through those years. I just loved it.