A backstage pass at Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’

At least an hour before the curtain goes up on Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker, the dancers start arriving at the Academy of Music. They put on makeup, style their hair, tie the ribbons on pointe shoes, and stretch. Someone from the wardrobe department is positioned in each dressing room to fasten costumes. Young students from the School of Pennsylvania Ballet who are playing the angels receive their wings.

Sydney Dolan, 18, a soloist making her debut this year as the Sugar Plum Fairy, warms up at intermission with pirouettes on stage. When the second act starts, she’ll watch other dancers before making her entrance.

'When my music comes on, I take a deep breath and close my eyes, and maybe say a little something in my head to be like, ‘OK, here we go. Let’s do it!’ And then I go for it."

Aaron Anker is a member of the corps de ballet, is performing both dancing roles, like Hot Chocolate, and a number of acting roles: Herr Drosselmeier, Dr. Stahlbaum, and Mother Ginger.

“It’s fun for me to sort of expand my horizons and tell a story in a different way,” he said. “It can totally change the mood of the scene just based on how I react to other people or how other people react to me.”

Aaron Anker puts on his coat to play Drosselmeier.
Jose F. Moreno
Aaron Anker puts on his coat to play Drosselmeier.

Nutcracker is an endurance test for dancers, with 29 shows until Dec. 31. But each audience sees it only once, and that drives them to give their best every time.

“There’s so many people who come to the Nutcracker who have never seen ballet before,” Dolan said. “There’s a lot of children who look forward to it all year.”