Students gather to audition for 'The Nutcracker'
Minnesota Ballet artistic director Robert Gardner looked over his glasses at the 11 little girls in dark blue leotards standing in a row before him. "Thirty-nine, can you go to the end of the line? And 22, can you stand next to her?" The two girl...
Minnesota Ballet artistic director Robert Gardner looked over his glasses at the 11 little girls in dark blue leotards standing in a row before him.
"Thirty-nine, can you go to the end of the line? And 22, can you stand next to her?"
The two girls flitted into place.
Sitting next to Gardner, Suzanne Kritzberg, a principal dancer with the ballet, erased something on the sheet in front of her.
"Thirty-two and six, switch places," Gardner said. "Stand up straight..."
"Now switch back."
Gardner, Kritzberg and youth instructor Ramona Treuer conferred for a moment, whispering.
One girl brushed a stray lock of hair off her forehead. The rest waited tensely, some with arms splayed, others with knees visibly locked.
Treuer pointed to something on Kritzberg's sheet. More whispering.
Then Gardner clapped.
"OK, thank you!" Gardner said. "You'll get your letter in the mail."
And so concluded the Level III class auditions for the Minnesota Ballet's holiday production of "The Nutcracker," the largest and most elaborate ballet the company stages each year.
Gardner, Kritzberg and Treuer were looking Saturday morning to fill 60 roles, some of which will be double-cast. Almost 50 students between 8 and 12 auditioned Saturday morning; about 20 older ones already had performed.
"We try to make it as professional as we can," Treuer said. "I try to emphasize the professionalism of the auditions ... but I also want their personalities to show through."
Each student wore a number on the front of her leotard and was taught a quick series of steps, which she was then asked to perform with a few of her classmates.
The critical eyes of the ballet's leaders, coupled with the possibility of being cast in a hoped-for role, made Saturday's auditions a jittery occasion.
"I was nervous, I have to admit," said 10-year-old Rachel Fuchs. "I was nervous, maybe, about not doing the best I could."
Lillie Streling found her audition to be "very frightening. I'm afraid I'm going to fall or do something wrong."
Two years ago, Amy Wright's daughter Tori, now 14, showed up for her noon audition at 9 a.m.
"She's not the only one who's come early," said Betsy Holcomb, the ballet's development director. "They get so excited. They live for this."
The most coveted role of all, of course, is that of the little girl whose Christmas dream forms the plot of "The Nutcracker."
"They all aspire to be Marie," Wright said.
Gardner said he had two girls in mind, "but if I see two little girls who'd be great, that might change."
The students between 8 and 10 are often cast as the children who appear in the prologue, building snowmen and frolicking in the snow.
Students ages 10 to 12 are most often cast as soldiers, Mother Ginger children or Mirlitons, youthful characters who dance for Marie and The Nutcracker in the ballet's second act.
Most of the Level III students aspired to be Mother Ginger children.
"I used to go to the Nutcracker when I was little, and that was my favorite part," 10-year-old Madison Ruona said.
Stage time and costumes -- the Mirlitons' Little Bo Peep skirts are prettier than the solider uniforms -- make some roles more desired than others.
"The younger kids, they're just excited to be here. Any role will do," Treuer said. "As they get older, though, they have their hearts set on certain parts."
The students who auditioned Saturday won't find out how they were cast until early next week.
"We try to make sure everyone gets a part," Gardner said. "There are some disappointments ..."
"Always," Kritzberg chimed in.
"They come in dreaming of the plum roles, but they get over it quickly," Gardner continued. "They get the video and start studying for their role next year," Holcomb said.