The First Time

March 20, 2012
By , Cheswick, PA
It was a chilly, winter night, and downtown Pittsburgh gleamed like the stars in the sky. The sound of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker March filled my ears as I nervously waited backstage. My heart raced and butterflies filled my stomach. I was minutes away from performing in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker at the Benedum Center for the very first time.

Just a few days after I turned eight I auditioned for The Nutcracker. Besides the fact that I was on my way to the first audition of my life, it was just a normal Saturday in the middle of September. I joyfully danced with other dancers, who varied in ability and age. I smiled and tried my best to get a spot in the professional production of The Nutcracker. Although elated to be there, I felt quite overwhelmed. With my audition number pinned to my leotard, I found myself very nervous. The company’s Artistic Director, Terrence, teachers, and directors watched, recorded, and whispered about my every move. Several other dancers and I demonstrated numerous different moves that would be done in the Nutcracker by certain roles. The panel evaluated every student and considered whether we could handle the opportunity or not. Despite my emotions, I danced my absolute best with a smile on my face of regardless my truly horrified, nervous, and fearful emotions.

The audition paid off when I received a part in The Nutcracker. Sarah S.…. Cast B, Soldier, read the casting list. There were four casts, and each cast was assigned certain dates to perform through the season. My cast included the same student dancers so we became used to performing together. Even though being a soldier didn’t seem like that important of a part, I knew that every role was significant and necessary for The Nutcracker to be such a success and a spectacular performance. The Children’s Division Principal says every year, “Each part is an honor and required to make the Christmas tradition come alive each season.”

Every Saturday from then until December, I attended Nutcracker rehearsals. After Thanksgiving break, I was privileged to rehearse with the professional dancers in The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s company. It was so special and exhilarating to see the Nutcracker from the perspective of a performer, not just an audience member. When I earned the opportunity to rehearse every week with such talented dancers, it reminded of me how fortunate I was for getting to be part of such a spectacular and important production. It made the experience so much more memorable and essential to my life.

As opening night crept closer and closer, I was thrilled. I recall rigorous rehearsals almost every day after school, on top of regular dance classes. Two days before the first performance, I attended tech rehearsal at the Benedum Center; it was quite different to perform on the huge stage compared to the back studio at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School in the Strip District. We wore costumes practiced with the sets for the first time. I never performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra before; it was such an honor. The sounds of the instruments in person made the production so much more alive than with just a CD.

Dress rehearsal followed tech rehearsal the next day. Dress rehearsal was basically the same as tech rehearsal, except things moved along more smoothly. There were not as many glitches in lighting and scenery and everything flowed together. Though it went well, the whole setting was intimidating. I was just a small soldier surrounded by big rats, the doll, the gingerbread, the nutcracker, Marie, and other colorful characters. The scenery from the scene prior to the battle gets much larger, giving the allusion that the character Marie is shrunken down to the size of a mouse or doll. Everyone seemed so big and frightening compared to me, and that made me a little tense and anxious; in addition, the live music made it feel more real, like I was actually in a battle.

There I was, now a few minutes before the 7:30pm opening performance of The Nutcracker. It was a sold out show in a 2,800-seat theater. Needless to say, it was fairly nerve racking. My emotions were on a roller coaster, and so many thoughts went through my mind. I was proud, excited, honored, scared, and nervous; I waited back stage surrounded by all my friends. In the dressing room, there were vanities with fluorescent lights around the mirrors in the middle of the room. The perimeter of the room contained several costumes, and I dressed in my bright blue soldier uniform.

The sounds of the intercom filled the room, “Five minutes until curtain.” The girls in the party scene went up to the stage as I patiently waited backstage. Before I knew it, the performance began. A few minutes later, a parent volunteer took me, along with many other soldiers, up to stage level to get ready. By this time I wasn’t even nervous, just thrilled to be there. As the battle scene music began to fill my ears, a smile gleamed across my face. I marched on the stage in unison with the other soldiers, and I had the time of my life performing on stage. With thousands of people in the audience watching me, I knew at that moment that dancing was my true passion.

Dancing in The Nutcracker greatly influenced my life and who I am today. Being in The Nutcracker requires a great amount of time, effort, and commitment; however, if you are willing to give your all, it has great rewards. Ever since I first stepped on the Benedum Stage when I was eight years old, I have not had a more wonderful and exciting experience in my life. My first Nutcracker performance was over, the applause had subsided, but I knew the joy and sentimental feeling would stay with me forever.

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