The End of an Era: Seniors Reflect on Their Time With “The Nutcracker”


Adrita Talukder

The student dancers of Nittany Ballet run through the finale on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

Adrita Talukder, Newspaper Editor in Chief

Every year come December, theaters across the globe put on productions of The Nutcracker, drawing the attention of millions young and old. The ballet, which began as a children’s story, has since become a quintessential staple of the holidays, and has been a part of State College’s winter festivities for years. Nittany Ballet, the Central PA dance studio nestled among the buildings of Research Drive, puts on a yearly production of the ballet, delighting viewers in what can only be described as a magical experience. 

The story follows young Clara (also known as Marie in certain renditions of the story), who is gifted a nutcracker doll from her Godfather, Herr Drossleymeyer, on Christmas Eve. Before heading to bed, Clara places the nutcracker under her family’s Christmas tree. What awaits Clara in the night is the story of The Nutcracker, a wondrous tale of thrilling battles, captivating dances, and the magic of childhood. 

Senior Clara Pollock, who played Clara when she was in 6th grade, reflected on the role. For Pollock, the character of Clara was her first lead role, and her experience of being the main character in The Nutcracker was enchanting. 

“It was one of my first ‘older kid’ roles, so I felt like I was sort of growing up in that way. I wasn’t really dancing with the younger kids anymore,” Pollock said. “It was all just very magical, because being the main character of the story, you get to experience the story instead of actually having to dance so much. […] It was pretty surreal. I mean, looking back on it now, it wasn’t really the greatest achievement, but I think as a little kid, [you] kind of aspire to be her.”

As a senior, Pollock will play the Sugar Plum Fairy. It’ll be her last Nutcracker with Nittany Ballet, and she’s coming full-circle, performing the role she once looked up to as a kid. 

“My first role, I was an angel in The Nutcracker, which is kind of like a full-circle moment for me, because [as] the Sugar Plum Fairy there’s one scene where she comes out and gets to dance with other angels, so I [now] get to see the little kids dancing,” Pollock said. 

Pollock isn’t alone in this feeling. For many of the senior dancers, their final Nutcracker with Nittany Ballet has given them the opportunity to fulfill their childhood dreams. 

“It feels kind of weird sometimes to think that you never thought you would have [these] parts, and now you’re in rehearsal, [and] the little kids that you [once were are] watching you in rehearsal, and it’s sort of a full-circle moment,” said senior Gabby Showalter, who plays Dewdrop. 

While there’s a sense of gratitude among the senior dancers for their studio, their current roles, and each other, with their final Nutcracker right around the corner, they can’t help but feel a little emotional. When thinking about her experiences with The Nutcracker, Pollock recalled her favorite scenes from the show.

“I definitely like the final scene when you get to see [Clara] hold up the nutcracker,” Pollock shared. “But also the end of Waltz of the Flowers, because that’s traditionally a dance with all of the older dancers, and I feel like we just sort of find a good community within it. I don’t know, every time I hear the end of the music and we’re just all on stage together, I just feel like crying. Like no matter what year I’ve done it. […] I feel like everything is just a lot more emotional [this year] because in the back of my mind I know it’s the last time I’ll be doing it here with the same people. I guess I’m just a lot more appreciative [of] the time that I have.”

As Pollock’s time with Nittany Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker slowly comes to a close, she’s found herself more aware of the time she has left. For Showalter, on the other hand, the finality of the upcoming performances hasn’t quite hit her yet. 

“It’s weird, I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” said Showalter, reflecting on the upcoming show.  “It’ll be the last show and it’ll hit me on stage, but I think it’s a little bittersweet, because obviously, it’s sad that I won’t be a part of it anymore, but I guess it’s sort of—we’ve worked towards this point, so it’s literally and figuratively a graduating moment.” 

Showalter has been dancing in The Nutcracker since she was in Kindergarten. For her, The Nutcracker has been a yearly tradition that she’s taken part in for over a decade. 

“It’s almost become tradition at this point, just because I’ve participated every year for a while,” Showalter said. “And also, [I’ve gotten] to be part of that tradition for the people that come and watch it every year. […]For me, I’ve just gotten so used to it that it’s just a part of what I do at the holidays.”

For many dancers, this is the case. But for senior Anneliese Welsh, who will be playing the Snow Queen, The Nutcracker has been a relatively new experience. 

“My first full Nutcracker, doing the actual thing, was in my sophomore year, when I [moved to State College],” Welsh said. “I haven’t done too [many] Nutcracker things, [and] most people are like ‘oh yeah, it’s just Nutcracker again,’ but I still feel really excited—I have this childlike kind of excitement about it because it’s this tradition I feel very connected to as a dancer, but also like I haven’t been able to engage fully with for so long.” 

While Welsh hasn’t been able to dance in The Nutcracker for as long as her peers, it’s still a show she’s grown up with, and she has a connection with it as deep as any other dancer. For her, The Nutcracker isn’t only a coming of age story, but a rite of passage for dancers. 

“The symbolism of the story itself is very much about this coming age story, which I think is just really interesting from that perspective—that this story about a young girl growing up is the story that’s being told, because I think especially in the time that it was created, that wasn’t a story that was super valued. To [now] see that story being really valued is really interesting [to] me,” Welsh reflected. “As a dancer, [The Nutcracker] feels almost like a rite of passage to be doing the roles and learning the pieces.” 

With performances quickly approaching, the lives of the dancers have become ever more hectic. Students have been rehearsing for The Nutcracker for months, and as opening night draws near, they’re spending long nights in the studio, working to perfect their technique for their performances. In the midst of intensive rehearsals, it can be difficult to step back and find joy in what you’re doing, something that Welsh is working hard to prioritize. 

“I know in my brain [ballet] is something that I love, and I do enjoy it, but a lot of the time, especially in the show week, which I get really excited about, it’s easy to lose track of remembering to enjoy what it is that you’re doing,” Welsh said. “And I remember the first year that I was there, Connor would always say ‘it’s the joyful pursuit of excellence’—[which] is the motto of Nittany Ballet—and he’d be like ‘what word are we underlining?’ and it was always ‘joyful.’ And it was kind of silly, he’d always say it, and we’d always end up laughing, but I really do believe that that is the approach that we have here and it’s really important to remember that and that’s something, especially during Nutcracker, when it’s during the holiday season, joy is this very big thing to focus on.”

The teachers at Nittany Ballet emphasize the idea of “the joyful pursuit of excellence” to their students, along with another key message: “taking it all in.” For Pollock, the idea of stepping back and taking in everything—how far she’s come, and how the show has come together—has been one of the biggest things she’s learned during her time at Nittany Ballet. Like Welsh, Pollock is taking the time to enjoy the process, especially with this being her last Nutcracker

“I think mainly I’ve learned about—what my one teacher likes to say is, ‘taking it all in,’” Pollock said. “I think it’s really easy, when there’s sort of that pressure to perform well, to sort of just like, have the performance go by in a blur and not really recognize your accomplishments and at the end of the day, when you get on the stage, you have to trust that your technique is strong and just kind of live in the moment.”

Nittany Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker at The Mishler Theatre on Dec. 10 and 11 at 7:00 pm and Dec. 12 at 2:00 pm. Students interested in experiencing the magic of The Nutcracker themselves can purchase tickets to the show here.