Today is a special day, indeed! In addition to being the second day in the 12 Days of a Jane Austen Christmas, it’s also the one-year book birthday of my first book, The Muse: A Pride and Prejudice Variation! It’s been a wonderful year for me and my book, and I’m so thrilled that I get to celebrate on Austen Variations.
The Muse is set in the ballet world of New York City and nothing says the holidays more than a ballet tradition, The Nutcracker. Many of my own experiences dancing ballet went into creating The Muse, and some of my fondest and most torturous memories comes from rehearsing and performing in The Nutcracker.
Specifically, I remember “The Waltz of the Snowflakes,” the very last piece in the first act. Clara and her Nutcracker Prince cross through a snowy forest before ending up in the Kingdom of Sweets in the second act. In the forest, they are caught in a snow storm, embodied by the corps de ballet.
This portion of the ballet was so fun to perform! Just like snowflakes, the dance twirls and twinkles all across the stage. I still hear Tchaikovsky score’s whenever I find myself walking through a snowstorm; the high wind instruments and frenetic strings later on in the piece perfectly capture the whirling of snowflakes.
Here’s a funny dance story from when I performed in the ballet: Rehearsals for Waltz of the Snowflakes usually began in early October, two nights a week. There were about two dozen of us dancers crammed in a small studio rehearsing the steps over and over again. Our rehearsal director was old-school: a hardboiled Argentinian, who spoke no English and who wore sunglasses all the time, even at night and even in the studio. He’d often make us practice the same eight-count step dozens of times until our toes ached, our muscles wept, our lungs nearly collapsed, and all of us were perfectly synchronized. We could have performed that ballet in our sleep…or so I thought.
Studio rehearsals, though, never compared to actually rehearsing and performing on stage. The stage is much wider and deeper than the studio, with new points of reference all around. To make matters more complicated, the end of Waltz of the Snowflakes calls for drama. A women’s chorus sings backstage while the live orchestra performs in the pit below. And because artistic directors are pure sadists, ours decided it would also be a good idea to rain down glitter and fake snow at the end of the Waltz to simulate a snow storm. This couldn’t happen during the dress rehearsal, though. Too onerous for the stagehands to sweep the stage.
On the day of my first performance, I was nervous. I’d never performed in such a serious role on the professional stage. I worked especially hard to remember all of the steps and poses. At last, we’d reached one of the final figures of the dance when the dancers formed two concentric circles that moved in different directions around each other. Suddenly, I heard a sudden pelting like hail. And then something heavy fell on my snowflake crown. And then a piece of glitter landed on my fake eyelashes, threatening my vision. I slipped on a piece of snow underneath the tip of my pointe shoe, and that was it. I forgot every step! A dancer’s worse nightmare. I flailed, looking desperately around me for someone to copy off of. Finally, after several ageless seconds, I caught the step. When the time came for me to exit, I ran off stage in humiliation. Our rehearsal director would kill me!
During the intermission, I fully expected him to barge into the dressing room and ream me out in front of everyone. But, he didn’t and actually, no one noticed my gaffe. Not my parents who were sitting in the audience, the rehearsal director, or any of the other dancers. But, I’ll never forget that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever been more panicked.
And thanks to this moment, I got a scene for The Muse, so it all worked out in the end. By the way, if you’ve never seen The Nutcracker spend a few minutes and watch this. Isn’t it magical?
Hope you watched the video! It’s giveaway time, in which one random commenter will receive a free autographed copy The Muse! In the comments, feel free to share your Nutcracker memories, a funny holiday-related goof-up, or anything else you’d like.
A very happy holiday season to you all!