Two Dancers on Becoming Clara

It is a special honor to be cast as Clara in Ballet West’s The Nutcracker. Not only is it an iconic role, but for the serious dancer, it can launch her career.

In The Nutcracker, Clara is a young girl who receives a toy Nutcracker for Christmas. As she falls asleep on Christmas Eve, she dreams of helping The Nutcracker defeat the Mouse King in a battle royale. The Nutcracker toy turns into a real prince, and together, Clara and her prince go on an adventure through the land of Snow and Sweets, meeting some very colorful characters in the process.

While the part is a magical one, the reality of bringing Clara’s world to the stage takes an incredible amount of time, sweat, and hard work. It all starts in September, when more than 600 children converge on the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre for auditions. It is an explosion of cuteness mixed with a bit of anxiety as kids await their turn. Late that same evening, children and their parents are notified of their potential casting via an encrypted website.

Two children dancing the role of Clara return this year: 13-year-old Olivia Huntsman and 12-year-old Ella Whitney. We wanted the perspective from these “veterans” of the stage:

What is your favorite part of The Nutcracker?

Ella: My favorite parts of The Nutcracker are the fight scene.  There is so much excitement on stage, and I especially love watching the mice.  It can be hard to act scared when the mice are on stage because they are so funny! 

Olivia: My favorite parts of Nutcracker are the party scene and snow scene.  I love the energy of the party scene and the magical feeling when the snow is falling and I’m riding in the sleigh.  It is an amazing feeling dancing the role of Clara…it’s a dream come true. 

What is the most difficult part for you of playing Clara? Technique, playing a character, something else?  

Ella: The hardest part for me are Clara’s different emotions. She does a lot of crying on stage! 

Olivia: The most difficult part is probably the quick changes. Sometimes your costume gets stuck and you have no time, and it’s really scary because when the music cue to enter the stage again, you have to be ready.  

Tell me about what your rehearsal schedule is like.

Ella: I have regular ballet technique classes six days a week, and I usually have Nutcracker rehearsals three days a week after my technique classes.  Some days, I am in class and rehearsal for six hours, which I love!

Olivia: There are at least two or three rehearsals every week and  they are usually at least an hour or two. 

Have you done other roles in Nutcracker?  

Ella: Yes!  I have been very lucky to also perform as the tumbling Buffoon, Party Princess, and two years as Clara.    

Olivia: I have been in the Nutcracker many times. My first year, I was a party princess. My second year, I was a buffoon. My third year, I was a buffoon and baby mouse. My fourth year, I had a Clara call-back, but my sister Mary Claire got the part and I was really happy for her I ended up Dancing Party Girl #1 (the yellow dress)…Last year was my fifth year in the Nutcracker and I made Clara. … This year is my sixth year, and I am excited to dance the part of Clara again.  Each year has been an amazing experience with many lifelong friendships made and memories to last forever.

What was it like being told last year that you’d gotten the role of Clara?  

Ella: It was a very exciting day!  I love the whole audition process, and it was a dream come true to be chosen as Clara.  I couldn’t wait to start learning the role.   

Olivia: When I was told I got Clara last year, it was the best feeling ever. 

What is it like working with Company members?  

Ella: I love to dance with the Company dancers.  They inspire me to work hard so I can be in a ballet company just like them when I grow up.  

Olivia: It is a great experience working with the Company dancers. I love to be a part of, and watching the Company rehearsals to see what the professional dancers are expected to do. It is a great learning experience getting to watch them during the Nutcracker rehearsals and shows. 

Anything else you’d like to tell patrons about dancing this iconic role?

Ella: I love being a part of The Nutcracker, and I am honored to play the role of Clara.  It makes the Christmas season more fun and magical, and I hope I can tell the story to the audience in an exciting way.

Olivia: When the music starts at the very beginning and we are waiting back stage, all of the nervous energy goes away immediately, and at that moment, being a part of The Nutcracker is magical.