When you are a little girl with a black leotard and pink tights and black shoes and ballet is on your screen, there a few things that offer more enchantment than the role of Clara.
It’s a role danced by adults, but Clara Tannenbaum is a child, and it’s her story that is at the heart of "The Nutcracker," which will be staged again by the Milwaukee Ballet this month.
For most of those little girls, Clara is a long way off and very few of them will ever get the chance to bring this stirring little character alive. But for Nicole Teague, a leading artist at the ballet, it wasn’t a wait until your older journey.
"I actually have a different story than most little girls," she said during a rehearsal break. "I grew up with my family being dancers and they had their own school. They were performing in The Nutcracker with all of us students. When i was old enough I did clara for about five years when I was in school. I started when I was 12. The role grew with me as I got older."
Teague, who is now 29, has done Clara at least 10 times, including five or six with the Milwaukee company. And she clearly has an understanding of the magic this production, designed and choreographed by artistic director Michael Pink, holds in its hands.
"It has a very magical aspect to it," she said. "It is such a family show. I love to be young and childlike. Especially with Michael’s story. It’s so magic and so imaginative. And he gives us so much freedom in our character development."
For his part, Pink has a kind of love affair with this show.
"The thing I like most about it is that there is so much dancing," he said. "The stage is full of of beauty."
Nutcracker tells the story of a toy, a young girl, a family, rats and mice and flowers and snow angels and all kinds of holiday magic and characters.
"I feel an energy coming straight from my heart," Teague says. "I know that sounds corny. I really feel it from the inside out right when the music starts.
"I’m especially love performing it for student shows. The children are so enthralled with it, it brings me great joy. A lot of kids get started when they watch the Nutcracker. Especially boys. I know a lot of boys who got started because of the Rat King or the Cavalier."
Watching Teague and Luz San Miguel, the other leading female dancer in the company, rehearse for Clara is like watching a lovely pair of doves gently floating in the air. And when Teague and Davit Hovhannisyan partner across the floor the room grows quiet. There is no stretching or toying with costumes, because all eyes are fixed on the magic in the air. There is a charisma between the two that is rarely seen and everyone in the rehearsal studio knows it.
The choreography for Nutcracker seems incredibly complicated as does the entire production. There are over 240 people who are involved in the production, making for a very busy backstage area. The choreography backstage is almost more difficult than what you see onstage.
But for Teague, while it is about the choreography, it is almost more about the story.
"I’m not thinking about steps," she said. "It’s like an actor with lines. If you think too much about something it won’t engage anyone. I truly feel that Michael’s Nutcracker is special, and I’ve done a lot of versions. I mean we have an actual carousel on the stage. I love the feeling of the engagement and being in command on stage. It’s the obligation of every artist we have. The most important thing to remember is that we are all in this together.
"People come to see this show every year. Year after year and nobody ever gets tired of it. Not the audience, not the company, and certainly not me."
"The Nutcracker" runs Dec. 13-27 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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