Behind the scenes at the Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’

School of Pennsylvania Ballet students Jane Cohen and Aidan Duffy rehearse "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker." Credit: Alexander Iziliaev
School of Pennsylvania Ballet students Jane Cohen and Aidan Duffy rehearse “The Nutcracker.”
Credit: Alexander Iziliaev

A core member of the Pennsylvania Ballet since 2010, Alex Ratcliffe-Lee is no stranger to physically and mentally challenging dances.

But wearing a giant mouse head while leaping onstage is quite another matter.

For a third season, Ratcliffe-Lee has been selected to play the Mouse King in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.”

“To be honest, I’m really not sure why they chose me for this. I guess they saw that I could project as a funny-looking evil villain in some way,” says Ratcliffe-Lee. (Yes, RATcliffe is his real name.) “Basically, I’m on stage for five minutes, and I’m sweating my face off by the end of it.”

For a professional dancer, the Mouse King’s ballet doesn’t contain an intimidating degree of difficulty. Yet, Lee continues to rehearse and refine the movements, almost incessantly.

“The helmet is just so hard to see out of — and hearing the music is another challenge. I practiced a lot in a brightly lit space just to get used to it,” he explains. “So it’s about setting it on stage in the costume over and over. I have to know my sequences perfectly. There have been times when I miss steps, and a jump is not successful. That’s no good.”

 

For aspiring Mouse Kings:

Alex Ratcliffe-Lee has some tips for dancing the role of the Mouse King:

1. Accept that you will make a lot of children cry and shriek in horror.

2. Demand a secure mouse head, fitted to your eye level.

3. Be careful that your mice minions don’t step on your cape.

 

Prepping the youngest dancers

After dancing with the Pennsylvania Ballet for more than 15 years – and becoming a crowd favorite many times over – Arantxa Ochoa will watch this year’s “Nutcracker” from the wings.

Ochoa is the new children’s ballet mistress for the show. And her new gig is, perhaps, even more taxing than dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy six times a week. Her assignment is to teach dozens of grade school-aged children complex choreography, as well as guide them through multiple costume changes and cues, and, of course, to prevent them from burning down the Academy of Music.

“I think the hardest thing for me has been adjusting my expectations for consistency. I have to remind myself that they are children. One day they come in and they [dance] beautifully, and the next day, I’m like, ‘What happened?’” Ochoa explains. “With adults you can assume they’re going to grow a little every day, but children, I think, naturally need to take two steps forward and one step back.”

 

“George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”
Dec. 7-29
Pennsylvania Ballet at the Academy of Music
240 S. Broad St.
www.paballet.org


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox defeat Orioles, 4-2

Brock Holt the difference in the Red Sox' win

NHL

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1

MLB

MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Parenting

How to parent without gender stereotypes in a…

Christia Spears Brown, Phd. author of "Parenting beyond Pink & Blue" gives advice on raising kids free of gender stereotypes.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.