Every year more than 200 children step onto the Opera House stage for upward of 40 performances, playing a crucial role in bringing the world of Boston Ballet’s “Nutcracker” to life.
By Iris Fanger
The Patriot Ledger
November 27, 2014
[Boston, Massachusetts, USA] – Every year more than 200 children step onto the Opera House stage for upward of 40 performances, playing a crucial role in bringing the world of Boston Ballet’s “Nutcracker” to life. More than 25 children from the South Shore are featured in this year’s performances of the most beloved holiday ballet, which begins tomorrow night and runs through Dec. 31.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s romantic score, the ballet is a whimsical Christmas fantasy that tells the story of a little girl, Clara, who flies off to a magical land when her nutcracker doll comes to life. The brave heroine Clara may be the production’s best-known role for a younger performer. Sharing the role this year are: Aleena Rose of Wrentham, Eliza French of Boston, Emily Hoff of Wellesley and Calissa Grady of Concord. Sharon’s Noah Parets will alternate the role of Fritz, Clara’s bratty brother.
Walking into the Boston Ballet studio one dark, November night, behind a group of little girls, a visitor is struck by the calm in the building despite the many children who are there, squeezing in rehearsals after school hours and in between homework assignments. The girls with their hair tied back into buns peel off to classes, or sit together cross-legged on the floor, before they are called into rehearsal. The boys are joshing each other in groups of their own. One girl does a backward somersault on the floor, but many of the children have books open, doing schoolwork. Outside, parents are waiting in double-parked cars, or sitting inside the huge lobby drinking coffee and passing time on their cell phones. The children started “Nutcracker” rehearsals after Columbus Day.
For Parets, a sophomore at Sharon High School, the day starts at 6:30 am. After school, a parent will pick him up in time to catch the commuter train for Boston, arriving at Back Bay Station at 3:53 p.m. He must run all the way to the Boston Ballet studio on Clarendon Street to make his 4 p.m. class on time. “Basically, it’s how I warm up every day,” Parets said. On Saturdays he rides into town for his 8:30 a.m. conditioning class. During these final weeks before opening night, extra rehearsals are called with the adult dancers, meaning a seven-day week at the ballet rehearsal space on Clarendon Street.
No stranger to long hours in the theater, Parets toured for a year in the title role in the musical, “Billy Elliot,” (2012-2013) and then appeared as the Artful Dodger in “Oliver!” at Trinity Repertory Company, Providence. He reprised his role in “Billy Elliot” at Ogonquit Playhouse in Maine this past summer. Starting his jazz and tap dance training at the Heidi Miller School of Dance in Walpole at age 7, he switched to the Gold School in Brockton at age 9 because, “there were more boys there, and men teachers,” he said. He now attends the pre-professional program at the Boston Ballet.
Parets said that the theater department at Sharon High is “huge,” but “I try to stay away from the topic that I wear tights every day.” His partner as Clara is French, a freshman at Boston Latin School. She saw Parets perform in “Billy Elliot,” but did not meet him until he joined her class at Boston Ballet School. French who lives on Beacon Hill gets up every day at 6 a.m. Like Parets, she doesn’t return home until 8 p.m., or later. “I finish homework around midnight. I wake up around 6 a.m. You get used to it, ” she said. At age 14, she’s a veteran of six years in “The Nutcracker,” working her way up to Clara, after playing the baby mouse, a Polichinelle and a party girl. This year is her third in the leading children’s role.
Part of the “Nutcracker” experience is being fitted for costumes and learning how to put on make-up. Charles Heightchew, manager of Costumes and Wardrobe for the Boston Ballet since 1998, has watched French grow up. “It’s nice to see Eliza getting the roles and growing mature,” he said. As for Fritz, he is only one of the adorable 99 children who appear on stage at every performance. “If the kid is really good, he can make Fritz steal focus. They are not encouraged to do that, but it happens,” Heightchew said.
Heightchew leads a crew of 11 union dressers, two supervisors, three wig people, and 16 in the costume shop to make alterations and repairs to the more than 350 costumes for the multiple casts for this year’s production.
Parets and French are but two of the 220 children appearing in the Boston Ballet’s production this year, chosen from around 350 students who came to the early fall auditions. All the children in the “Nutcracker” company must be students in one of the Boston Ballet Schools in Boston, Newton or Marblehead. The children are divided into three casts that rotate throughout the 44-performance run.
Braintree resident and former company soloist, Melanie Atkins, is the children’s ballet master. “I do the party scene, coach the children cast as Clara, and oversee the other teachers. The kids are real pros. They handle the schedule very well. We are very excited to have Noah in the cast this year. He’s had so much experience,” she said.
Although they are aware of the time constraints, leaving few hours for their friends at school, French and Parets are firm in their choices. “I always loved it so much. I am thinking now maybe ballet will be my career,” French said. As for Parets, there’s no question, “I want to be in the theater. A part of me wants to go to college. If I stay in ballet, I’ll go to college, but not right away,” he said.
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