This past Christmas season, a record number of students participated in and attended the Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is a staple of Christmas at Austin Prep, something a significant portion of the Austin Prep community takes part in every year. The show always includes girls and boys who have as little as no dancing experience as well as those who have been dancing since before they could walk. The Nutcracker celebrates dancers of all experience levels and finds a unique way to incorporate everyone to tell the age-old story of the Nutcracker. From battles with mice and soldiers to tales of sugarplums and marzipan, the Nutcracker remains a beloved holiday tradition.
However, this year, the Nutcracker looked slightly different than it has in past years. For the first time since its origin, the Nutcracker did not take place at Austin Prep. Dancers rehearsed and prepared to take to the stage at the Greater Boston Theatre in Stoneham on December 13th, for parents of the dancers, and the 14th for anyone else who wanted to attend. There was also a record-breaking number of dancers participating this year, with ~80 students partaking in solos, group numbers, or as crew members. After not being able to perform in front of a crowd last year, excitement was running high for the show this past year. Everyone was ready to step in front of a crowd in a true theatre for the first time in Austin Prep Nutcracker history.
The dancers came to the school for hours each weekend to rehearse for the show. With some numbers being over five minutes long, learning the dances and making them look clean is no easy task. Equally as important as choreography are costumes. Costumes were given out and sequins, tiaras, and tutus lined the dance room until the Austin dancers graced the stage. On Your Toes, the premier dance store in Massachusetts came to the school and fitted our dancers for tights and shoes. For some, they received their first-ever dance shoes. For others, they have been in dance shoes since before they could walk. Preparation was underway for months, and the music that was always ringing from the dance room added to our school’s holiday cheer.
On the day of the first show, the dancers left school at 11:00 AM and rehearsed and prepared tirelessly until 7:00 PM when the curtains went up. Three hours before the show, makeup and hairspray cans littered every surface backstage near the few available mirrors. Girls helped one another with eyeliner, raced to find hairnets, and anxiously awaited the sold-out audience’s arrival. The sense of community within the dressing room was unlike any other event. Dancers participated in a warmup and ran their routines. Before the show, director and choreographer Ms. Pascucci-Byrne gathered the cast and crew for our traditional prayer circle. Every year, dancers link their fingers, touch their feet, and join each other in a moment of peace to prepare for the upcoming show. Austin Prep’s Headmaster Dr. Hickey, whose daughter, a senior, was the Snow Queen, shared a few words as well. The dancers lined up, wishing good luck to all those in Act One.
The show went without a hitch and the dancers received a standing ovation after the show, everyone feeling moved for the first in-person Nutcracker since the start of COVID-19. Seniors who were dancing in their very last Nutcracker were honored at the end of the show with flowers and their own special moments to bask in the applause. The sixth graders watched them with stars in their eyes as they envisioned the day it would be them. Ms. P barely held in her tears of pride, as she has taught these dancers for years–some since they were eleven years old. The next day the dancers did it all over again.