There are Disney princesses by the dozen for girls to dream about, but far fewer role models for petit princes. Still, Zy'Ear Irving knows what it's like to be royalty. The 11-year-old from South Philadelphia is one of three boys playing the Nutcracker Prince in Pennsylvania Ballet's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which opens Friday at the Academy of Music (information at paballet.org). It is his second year in the role.
A sixth grader at the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, Zy'Ear lives with his grandparents, Cheryl and Bobby Irving, and teenage sisters Izhan'e and Bobbi, and has studied ballet in school since first grade. He started at the School of Pennsylvania Ballet last year, after director Arantxa Ochoa visited PPACS and offered scholarships to the boys.
We spoke with Zy'Ear about his royal duties on a recent busy day before rehearsal at Pennsylvania Ballet's studios.
What is your idea of a prince?
A person that kind of wears a suit and [holds his] chest up and everything. And like at a ball with a princess, that's what I think of.
What do the ballet masters tell you to help you get into the part of the Prince?
Act royal but not too royal, like the other person is your slave. Don't look down at them. You have to look the same.
How do they tell you to behave with Marie, the girl lead in the ballet?
Boyfriend and girlfriend, kind of. Like look into her eyes instead of looking at somebody else when you're dancing. And, like, not to be scared to hold her hand. It's hard to look in her eyes that much, because she's usually looking at somebody else. I kind of look over her shoulder.
There are lots of Hollywood princesses for girls to look up to. Is there a prince you think about?
Hans from Frozen.
How do you fit rehearsals around school?
It's after school. And then today I have a performance at my school right after the Nutcracker rehearsal.
You still have a performance tonight?
It's not like a play, it's just dance. I have five dances. It's jazz and ballet and working at barres.
What is your favorite step in ballet?
Pirouettes. I can do three. I'm trying to get a split. I'm almost there.
Which is your favorite scene?
The battle scene - it's exciting seeing the kid soldiers fight teenage mice.
Who wins in the end?
Which is your favorite scene to dance?
The pantomime, because it's kind of like a solo. It's with everyone else on stage, and it's explaining the battle scene but through dance. I like it because it's a solo.
You and Marie get to watch for most of Act 2. Which is your favorite scene in the Land of Sweets?
Polichinelles. [Mother Ginger] is a man dressed up. It's a very, very big costume. It's like a dress and they're under the skirt. He's walking on stilts. It's funny.
What's your favorite candy, for real?
How are you like the Prince?
Me personally? I am nothing like the Prince. I'm not that royal. But sometimes I'm a little bit like the Prince, like during ballet class. But I'm usually like a regular person.