The Nutcracker: Tchaikovsky at Colgate

Meg Savin

‘Tis the season. Downtown Hamilton is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Carols can be heard throughout the bookstore, Maxwell’s packages of chocolates covered in red and green paper appear even more tempting than usual, Delta Upsilon’s outdoor lights help brighten the dismal upstate NY winter afternoons and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is in full rotation at the Jug. Christmas is in the air.

This year marks the inauguration of a special holiday tradition on campus. It is one that many of us are familiar with from our youth – the performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The ballet, despite having debuted for the first time in the spring of 1892, has become a Christmas favorite, performed everywhere from third grade dance recitals to the New York City Ballet. This season, Colgate is fortunate enough to have our very own company, the newly formed Colgate Ballet Company, perform a slightly modified version of the full-length ballet at the University’s Brehmer Theater, under the direction of seniors Emily Colahan and Rachel MacFarland.

The co-directors of the student-run event found time between rehearsals, studying and the craziness that is senior year to take a minute at the Barge to preview the upcoming ballet. They discussed their goals, expectations and, of course, their worries and stressors for the first ever performance at Colgate. The two dancers/directors begin by rattling off the dizzying list of contributions they have made to turn Clara’s dream into reality.

“We’re each in three dances,” MacFarland explained. “We’ve done choreography, costumes, posters, the program; we’ve been cutting music. We’re borrowing scenery from the Theater Department.”

“We’re going to create a growing tree,” Colahan explained. “We went out and bought all the costumes, and now we’re going to be making all the costumes.”

“Everyone has their sewing assignments,” MacFarland added.

Picking out the fabric alone for the dancer’s costumes took the ambitious directors five hours one afternoon.

“Oh, and we’d also really like to make t-shirts,” Colahan added, “to help publicize the event.” The director is not fazed to add one more item to her “to-do” list.

Though the bulk of the work has fallen on the shoulders of these two women, the company has had some outside help from faculty. Interim Assistant Director of CLSI, James Devita, has assisted the co-directors, as has Political Science professor, Mai’a Cross, as the group’s faculty advisor. Cross, a dancer herself, has contributed choreography, worked with soloists, helped in staging the group dances and led dance classes once a week for the company. Devita has been working extensively with choreography on scenes, primarily from Act I, incorporating both dancers and actors.

“We have people from the Theater Department helping out,” MacFarland said. “We have about 20 dancers and then actors on top of that. It’s been great to have support from a faculty member and James [Devita,] because before [the group’s performances] have been completely student run.”

The company is co-ed, including two male dancers. MacFarland also noted that two dancers who are not part of the Colgate Ballet Company, but who dance in various other groups on campus, will be performing as well.

MacFarland explains that it is not quite the full-length ballet because “we don’t have enough dancers to do everything. We have most of it, actually. We’re only missing one dance. We took it down to a solo.”

The preparation has been particularly involved this year because it is the group’s debut of the ballet on campus. The company hopes that this will become a Colgate tradition, after this year’s group of trailblazers.

“Next year it will be much better,” MacFarland explained. “They’re going to have costumes and choreography, and they’re going to have an idea of what they need to do.”

In discussing what has been most challenging in pulling this performance together, Colahan talks about scheduling as a major impediment. “It’s just been really hard because all the dancers have their own schedules,” she said. “People are still dropping out and joining.” Rehearsals for the performance began at the start of the semester. The company has been rehearsing two nights a week: one night the whole company has class and then each particular group dance has a separate rehearsal each week. The Waltz of the Flowers includes the whole company. “We’ll be performing that one for Dancefest because that is the one that the most people are in,” Colahan said.

Funding for the event has also been a bit tricky. Luckily, CLSI has provided funding, but Colahan added that the two directors have been frugal in making purchases, collecting receipts to be reimbursed later.

As it comes down to the wire, rehearsals become more stressful. “I just hope that everyone knows their part,” MacFarland said. “Act II I’m not worried about. We’ve had less time with Act I, but there’s less dancing and more acting.”

“But there are more entrances and exits in Act I. I’m a little worried about that,” Colahan reflected.

The two incredibly upbeat directors proudly displayed their first version of the performance’s program. Despite having a bit more on their plate this holiday season than normal, they have not lost sight of the importance of enjoying the creative process of their nascent undertaking. The two laughed, saying they don’t know what they will do with themselves over break when they no longer see each other twice a day.

“I’ve just been freaking out about whether this is actually going to happen – trying to make everyone come together and trying to make all the costumes,” Colahan explained. “This is all from scratch; it’s just been really stressful, just the pressure to pull it all off.”

The company will be performing a children’s show for students visiting Brehmer Theater from Hamilton Central School on Wednesday, December 14. The company will have performances of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet for Colgate students on Saturday, December 10 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 11 at 5 p.m. where tickets are free for students and three dollars for non-students. All performances will be held at Brehmer Theater.

*Dancers: Emily Colahan, Holly Cowan, Rachel Cox, Ariel Falconer, Katlin Gnojek, Steve Hayden, Katrina Jenson, Shannon Larabee, Amelie Lipman, Lucia Livak, Katie Lodes, Rachel MacFarland, Angel Martinez, Caitlin McKenna, Julia Montague, Sophia Ressler, Nicole Svajlenka, Stefanie Telvi, and Karla Yeh

*Directors: Mai’a Cross and James Devita

*Other Participants: Alexis Hernandez, Janine Knight, Steve Koehler, Rodney Mason, Adam Samtur, Natalie Taylor, and Steph Wortel.