Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Figge Fox was prepared for the November
24, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Nutcracker Backstage: The Book and the Dancers
The very first color picture in the new Nutcracker book is of Wendy
Whalen dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy at New York City
Ballet, and on page 54 is the same dancer, at age 8, in her first
dancing role – a mouse in a production of the Louisville Ballet.
The possibility of that dreamed-for progression, from child dancer to
star, provides the glamorous tension that infuses this wonderful book,
"The Nutcracker Backstage: the Story and the Magic" (Angela Whitehill
and William Noble, Dance Horizons 2004, $29.95). Though children will
like it (the lines are widely spaced for easy reading, and the first
chapter tells the story), it has meaning on many levels for adults –
from the parent of a dance student to the ballet aficionado to the
casual dance-goer – because it tells in poignant detail just what
sacrifices a family makes to "grow" a dancer.
"That is partly what the book is about," says Charles Woodford, the
Hightstown-based publisher, "that you can start out as a mouse in a
production and take on more difficult parts until, if you persevere,
you become professional."
Lavished with 103 color photographs and eight black and white prints,
the book was published by Woodford and printed in Singapore. Whelan
wrote the introduction. The authors will have a signing on Saturday,
December 11, 2 to 4 p.m. at Giselle, the dancewear store at 20 Nassau
Street (609-497-9070). The book can be a two-stage gift – tickets to a
Nutcracker performance now, with the book under the tree as a memory
of that special day. It has been released just in time to be sold by
Princeton Ballet School/American Repertory Ballet – and scores of
other ballet companies across the country – at their Nutcracker
One of the teachers at Princeton Ballet School was hired this fall by
Woodford to promote the book. Sophie Lucas-Herrera, who teaches Middle
Eastern dance at the school and performs with Elena Lentini Dance
Theater, began by sending review copies to the 27 dance companies
included in the book (some were in the text, some had photographs),
and also to the companies that have some connection to the dancers
featured. Now she is calling the bookstores to ask them to "face the
Woodford is encouraged by how chains have increased their dance book
stock. "Dance used to be lumped in with performing arts and music, and
now bookstores have separate dance shelves. But the shelves are half
empty," he says. Barnes & Noble, with two shelves of dance books, has
"by far the best selection," compared to half shelf each for Borders,
Micawber, and the Princeton University Store.
The daughter of a modern dance pioneer, Woodford founded his
publishing firm, the Princeton Book Company, 29 years ago, and a
decade later he bought another publishing firm, Dance Horizons,
retaining the imprint. In 1997 he bought his own building and now
occupies the 3,000 square-foot second floor. With four full-time
employees and four part-timers, Woodford has 50 books, mostly dance
titles, currently in print. He owns the rights to 50 dance videos, and
he distributes another 100 books.
His latest venture is E-books, which can distribute an extensive list
of books that are out of print yet have strong niche appeal. A dozen
of these titles are available for sale – by chapter or for the entire
book – on such websites as www.amazon.com, www.powells.com,
www.ebooks.com, and www.efollett.com. "You pay with a credit card,
view the whole book or the chapter on the screen or print it, and once
you have paid for it you own it," says Woodford. "It requires hardly
any investment – just the fee for scanning, and my inhouse designer,
John McMenamin, does the formatting, chapter by chapter." One of the
E-distributed classics, by Ernestine Stodelle, honors the work of his
mother, Doris Humphrey.
Woodford requisitioned the Nutcracker book from Whitehill, who lives
in Toms River with her co-author and spouse, who has 18 books to his
credit; he also co-authored "Parents’ Book for Ballet." For 25 years
the director of Burklyn Ballet Theater and the Vermont Ballet,
Whitehill is known to New Jersey audiences for her work with New
Jersey Ballet and has also worked at the Atlanta Ballet. Whitehill had
the content in her head – all she needed was the photos and the quotes
provided by other companies. "I have directed all my life and I have a
lot of friends, and they were all just marvelous about helping," she
As she moves through the ballet Whitehill reveals the backstage
secrets. For instance, her chapter on the role of Clara also discusses
the audition process; it has eight photos from five dance companies
and has quotes from eight directors. One company posts the audition
results on its website so the tears and shouts of joy occur at home,
and another director urges those who win "to be kind to their less
fortunate auditioning friends."
Other chapters are on costuming ("Party Children"), adult roles and
volunteers ("Dr. Drosselmeyer and Party Parents"), rehearsals and
parents responsibilities ("Scurrying, Scary Mice"), hair, makeup, and
props ("March of the Toy Soldiers"), different productions ("Bunnies,
Bears, and Prickly Pears"), and the mechanics of making snow, growing
trees, moving the magic bed, and putting a tranvestite Mother Ginger
Mishaps make good anecdotes: the dancer who, by mistake, left on her
red legwarmers ("It took two of us to restrain the costumer from
running on stage and physically removing them"), the little boy who,
on opening night "took one look at the hat he had to wear and flatly
refused to go on stage"), and the muslin bag that, instead of shaking
out the snow, accidentally dumped all the snow at once in a 100-pound
For those accustomed to seeing one version of Nutcracker, it’s
intriguing to read about others, such as the Tucson company that
employs a Coyote instead of a Rat King, and the British version, by
Matthew Bourne, that sets the story in a Dickensian orphanage.
Hair preparation is crucial, and one dance school puts parents through
a series of lessons on how to fix their children’s hair, whether they
use rags to make Victorian-style curls or use pins and spray to make a
high bun (under the hats for the toy soldiers), a medium-high bun (for
most dancers), or a low bun (for the Spanish dancers).
Such area companies as Vineland Regional Ballet and New Jersey Ballet
are well represented in the photos, and also featured is a poignant
mother/daughter duo from American Repertory Ballet, formerly Princeton
Ballet. Joyce Stahl, mother of three dancing daughters, performed the
role of party parent for 25 years, and she even had a chance to dance
the role of the mother with her daughter, Julie.
Whitehill is the quintessential insider and a great gossip; she knows
where all the Nutcracker ghosts are buried. She is also the mother of
a dancer and very sympathetic to the arduous role that parents play in
the making of dancers. Most important, she shows how visiting guest
artists can be role models for awestruck young girls, and how the
rigors of dance training prepare these girls for the grown-up
discipline of any career.
As Whelan says of winning her first role, "It was as if we had been
handed the keys to a fantastic dream."
– Barbara Figge Fox
American Repertory Ballet, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place,
609-258-2787. $28 to $40. Friday, and Saturday, November 26 and 27, 1
and 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 28, 1 p.m. At the War Memorial,
Trenton, 609-984-8400. $22 to $34. Sunday, December 5, 1 and 4:30 p.m.
At the State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,
732-246-7469, $16 to $38. Saturday and Sunday, December 18 and 19, 1
and 4:30 p.m.
Roxey Ballet, Villa Victoria Theater, Route 29, West Trenton,
609-397-7616, ext. 807. $15.50 to $28.50. Friday, November 26, 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 27, 3 p.m. The Nutty Nutcracker, Spoof of the
classic production. $15.50 to $28.50. Sunday, November 28, 3 p.m.
Children’s version of the classic. Monday, November 29, 10 a.m. and 1
New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center, New York, 212-870-5570. $20 to
$96. Friday, November 26 to Thursday, December 30.
Suburban Dance Force, Lawrence High School, Lawrenceville,
609-530-0979. A children’s version. $8 to $12. Saturday, December 4, 3
and 6 p.m., also Sunday, December 5, 1 and 4 p.m.
West Windsor Plainsboro Dance Company," Community Middle School, West
Windsor, 609-799-6141. "New Age Nutcracker." $8. Saturday, December 4,
2 and 7 p.m., also Sunday, December 5, 1 p.m.
Hamilton Ballet Theater, Rider University, Yvonne Theater,
Lawrenceville, 609-587-2345. Choreographed by Julie Caprio. $13.
Saturday, December 11, 2 and 8 p.m. Also, Sunday, December 12, noon
and 3 p.m.
Belle Mead Ballet, Montgomery High School, 908-874-8800. $12.
Saturday, December 11, 2 p.m. At Hillsborough High School on Sunday,
December 12, 3 p.m. At Grace Norton Rodgers School, Saturday,
December 18, 2 p.m. At Yvonne Theater, Rider University, Sunday,
December 19, 3 p.m.
Pennsylvania Ballet, Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets,
Philadelphia, 215-893-1999. $19 to $99. Saturday, December 11, to
Sunday, January 2.
Great Russian Nutcracker, Raritan Valley College, Route 28, North
Branch, 908-725-3420. Moscow Ballet. Friday, December 17, 4 and 8 p.m.
Soup to Nuts, Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, Peddie School,
Hightstown, 609-514-1600. $20. Saturday, December 18, 3 p.m., also
Sunday, December 19, 1 and 4 p.m.
Nutcracker on Ice, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Prudential Hall,
Newark, 888-466-5722. St. Petersburg State Ballet. $12 to $50. Tuesday
and Wednesday, December 28 and 29, 7:30 p.m., also Wednesday at 2 p.m.
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