Visions of Sugar Plums

Dance critic Cheryl Callon writes about her love/hate relationship with that holiday staple, The Nutcracker.

published Friday, November 16, 2012

When people find out that I'm a dancer and a dance critic, they usually ask a wide range of questions. Around the holidays, however, I often get asked if I like The Nutcracker. My first response is usually, "No, I can't stand it."

But that's not really true.

I didn't develop a relationship with Nutcracker until I was 10 years old, even though I had been dancing since I was 4. I knew it existed; I have vague memories of seeing the ballet or the ice-skating version on TV. This new relationship, however, was one of regret and resentment, but it's not the ballet's fault. On the contrary, it was my love for entertainment and excitement over the rigors and discipline of ballet which led to the first encounter.

I had just moved to Tampa, and like any young, aspiring ballerina, I had planned on auditioning for one of the children's roles in Tampa Ballet's annual Nutcracker. That is, until my friend invited me to accompany her to one of the Disney theme parks. So one Saturday in September, I went to Orlando; and my ballet friends with greater aspirations than I auditioned. I saw the production when Christmas rolled around, and that feeling of regret crept in and with it came resentment. I was kicking myself for not auditioning.

Ten years later as a dance major, I was thrown into the whirlwind of Nutcracker production. Despite my ambitious, 10-year-old dreams, I had not blossomed into an exquisite ballet dancer ready to take on the New York City Ballet, so I auditioned for the limited number of soft-shoe roles—and utterly failed.

Costume crew was my fated destination. I learned how to sew (albeit pitifully) and attach bodices to tutus. Costume run crew was even more delightful. I had no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but rather that the intricate beading which adorned her costume that could possibly fall off with every lift. I was also in charge of the costumes of the mere six boys of the children's cast, but luckily not the dresses of multitude of pre-pubescent young ladies. Never again did I want to lay my hands on a flower tutu or hear the opening march of the overture.

Five years later I'm a graduate student—with another Nutcracker on the horizon. I knew better than to audition for the ballet, but I knew I wouldn't escape an intimate involvement in the holiday classic.

I was crowned Box Office Manager. It's kind of like parenting—you don't get an instruction manual, just a pat on the back and a "Go get 'em." Things were actually going okay until about six weeks out from show time—then the pressure started to build. It almost broke me when I lost the reservation for a group of thirty, had to scramble to find seats for them in an almost sold-out show, and then received a ticket request from the head of the department for that same performance.

I cried more in one semester than I had during my entire undergraduate career. I gained ten pounds from stress eating, and my hatred for the ballet grew to epic proportions. For the next few years, the music gave me shudders.

And yet amidst all of those negative memories, I'm still drawn to the timeless ballet. While the music conjures a vast array of emotions, I still feel a special bond with it. When I'm roaming the red-and-green sprinkled aisles on Black Friday and other customers unconsciously dismiss "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" as another holiday song to grow tired of once more, I secretly smile.

I have Nutcracker to thank for developing skills that would help me later on. A crash course in sewing gave me enough knowledge to construct my own costumes for future works of choreography.

Being a box office manager not only prepared me for the stress that would later come in my graduate career, but it cultivated my ability to diplomatically interact with patrons.

Adventures like these also make one grow as person. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? 

So, as this year's barrage of nuts, sugar and sweets blazes its way onto stages around the Metroplex, I will be in the audience of as many as possible. Because it's a part of me now.

I'll hold my breath in anticipation as the Sugar Plum Fairy completes a double en dehors pique turn. I'll smile appreciatively as the box office crew hurries to retrieve and fill ticket orders. I'll admire the intricacies of the Snow Queen bodice and wonder which techniques are used to keep the tutus looking pristine.

But mostly, I'll sit back and enjoy the performance. Because all of effort that goes into training, rehearsals, sewing, ticket sales and more are for you—the audience.


The first local productions of The Nutcracker begin this weekend. They are:

To see listings for more Nutcrackers, go to our listings page on TheaterJones, here.

Click the large gold search box, the one with the magnifying glass, to the right of "Events & Performances" and you'll get another box with search options. In the "article category" dropdown, select "dance" and then the "search listings" button. You'll get a list of all the local upcoming dance performances, most of which, right now, is The Nutcracker. (You can also type "nutcracker" into the "performance title" box and hit the "search listings" box, or enter.) Thanks For Reading

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Visions of Sugar Plums
Dance critic Cheryl Callon writes about her love/hate relationship with that holiday staple, The Nutcracker.
by Cheryl Callon

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