Making Magic

Swarovski Crystals, a 75-Pound Costume, and the Belly-Driving Skills of a Concealed Technician

One of the most beloved hallmarks of the holiday season, The Nutcracker’s fantastical tale of a girl’s dreamy journey to a mystical land on Christmas Eve has captured the hearts of generations worldwide.

Tchaikovsky's famous work highlights one of the most famous ballets in history as the story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince is distinguished by its magical visuals and effortless perfection ranging from the dancers to the larger-than-life characters to the special effects.

The Nutcracker is a tradition many families know well—but there’s a whole other show behind the curtain that they are not privy to.

And, it all starts about a month before opening night, after the last production ends. 

“That month, everyone shifts gears. [That month] used for choreography, costume fittings, and rehearsals,” says Mallory Porter, the director of marketing for Ballet Arizona.

About 30 professional dancers plus an ensemble of 20 children—some students at The School of Ballet Arizona, who take on roles like the toy soldiers—prepare for the two-hour show. 

This year, 7,000-8,000 audience members are expected to attend performances, which run from Dec. 9-24 (BalletAZ.org).

On performance days, dancers arrive early in the day and do a run-through. The makeup tends to take the longest, and it can take as long as 30 minutes for everyone to get into costumes. The most difficult? The Nutcracker and mice.

“There are gloves with claws, a separate headpiece, and a lot of little pieces,” Porter says. 

But the large components also require attention.

It takes five unseen people to push the 12-foot-tall Mother Ginger and her bon bons so they seemingly float effortlessly onto the stage. 

And the sleigh that Clara and her Nutcracker Prince ride is powered by a mobility scooter, controlled by a technician lying on their stomach while driving it around the stage.

“This takes more than any of our other productions to put on,” Porter says. “There’s so much about The Nutcracker that has this sense of magic, you have to do it right.” 

Other facts that make the magic happen:

  • The Mouse King costume weighs 75 pounds—quite a load for the dancer to carry.
  • More than 7,000 pounds of dry ice are used during the entire production run.
  • More than 100,000 Austrian Swarovski Crystals are incorporated to create the sparkle in the snow scene. 
  • More than 100 pounds of flameproof proof paper create the falling snow. 
  • The production utilizes 260 costumes—exponentially more than Ballet Arizona’s other shows which range from two to 20. 
  • Dancers use 250 pairs of pointe shoes during the production run. They get a new pair for each show and the worn pairs are autographed and can be purchased for $20.

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