Nutcracker production builds community, year after year


Photo courtesy Rachel Chen

Sophomore Rachel Chen dances in the “Waltz of the Flowers.” The Ovations dance studio puts on an annual production of The Nutcracker at the Greenberg Theatre.

By Isabella Brody

The curtain parts and lights illuminate the small stage at American University’s Greenberg Theatre. The classic Tchaikovsky overture plays, reminding families in the audience of why they keep coming back year after year to see this production. 

For over 10 years, Ovations, a small dance studio in Bethesda, puts on an annual production of The Nutcracker at the Greenberg Theatre. For many members of the cast, performing in the show has become a holiday tradition. Most cast members put on the production for the first time in kindergarten, playing smaller roles, like mice, because of the lower level of dance experience required. By the time they’re in high school, most dancers have developed technical skills that can support larger roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen or Columbine.  

Because the dancers have known each other for so long, cast members have strong chemistry, which contributes to the tight-knit atmosphere in rehearsals and on show nights, said junior Sara Lapidus, who played Columbine doll. 

“Over around half the people that are around my age, I’ve known since first grade,” said sophomore Lara Nobleman, who was the soloist in Waltz of the Flowers. “Even some of the other girls who came in later I feel just as close with them as people that I’ve known for longer.” 

Every year, at the beginning of June, dancers audition for the show. During auditions, the directors split the dancers into groups by age. They then learn two variations of The Nutcracker: the Russian variation, which involves a lot of jumping and strength, and the Sugar Plum variation, which challenges the dancers’ more technical side because of its light and delicate quality, sophomore Rachel Chen said. The dancers learn the two contrasting combinations so directors can clearly see their strengths and weaknesses. 

The Nutcracker ran for one week, from Dec. 12 to Dec. 15, with a total of nine shows. So the younger dancers can keep up their stamina during show weekend, they are split into three different casts while the older dancers perform in all nine. 

This year, Nobleman was the soloist in “Waltz of the Flowers,” a part she’s wanted ever since she started doing the production nine years ago. 

“I was really excited,” Nobleman said. “It’s not Sugar Plum, which is the leading role, so I didn’t feel as much pressure.” 

Lapidus, who has been performing in Ovations’ The Nutcracker for 12 years, played a  Columbine doll and a flower petal this year. She was thrilled when she received the role of the doll, she said.

“I have wanted to be Columbine since I was little because I really liked the music, and I always looked up to the girls before me who had that part,” Lapidus said. 

Lapidus’ admiration of the older dancers isn’t unique to her alone —most of the girls who have been apart of the production since they were young are able to look back and see the progress they’ve made as dancers. 

“As you get older, you see the parts that seem really big and out of reach are closer,” Chen said. “You see yourself grow up.”