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
National

New Apple devices include default kill switch

By Marina LopesWASHINGTON (Reuters) - New Apple Inc phones include a theft deterrent system that enables users to lock their devices and wipe them clean…

National

PHOTO: Photographer comes face-to-face with deadly crocodile

A deadly crocodile comes face-to-face with a courageous photographer, who manages to take a set of jaw-dropping pictures of the teeth-baring reptile.

Local

Brooklyn packed for annual West Indian Day Parade

Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway was packed Monday with an estimated one million people showing up on Labor Day to celebrate West Indian culture.

Local

James Michael Tyler on Gunther, Central Perk and…

We spoke with Gunther (James Michael Tyler) at the preview for new pop-up Central Perk, based on the cafe in "Friends."

Going Out

Where to eat and drink during Oktoberfest in…

Paulaner In the Bowery, this Bavarian restaurant/brewery will start the celebrations at 8 p.m. Saturday with the premiere of master brewer Andreas Heidenreich’s Oktoberfest brew.…

Going Out

Where to celebrate Oktoberfest in NYC

Germany is a land of contradictions — is there an explanation for how the same country produced lederhosen and Rammstein? But they all managed to agree…

Going Out

Things to do in NYC this weekend, Sept.…

BEHIND THE SCENES New York on Location Sept. 21, 11 a.m. Kaufman Astoria Studios 36 Street between 34 and 35 avenues, Astoria Free, www.movingimage.us Have…

Going Out

5 things to do in NYC this weekend,…

Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival Sept. 18-22, various times The Bell House, 149 Seventh St. Union Hall, 702 Union St. $10-$20, www.eugenemirmancomedyfestival.com In addition to the usual…

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL

Fantasy football: Run with Knile Davis, Khiry Robinson,…

Fantasy football: Run with Knile Davis, Khiry Robinson, Donald Brown

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…

Career

Here's why the newly-crowned Miss America deleted her…

Miss America pageant winner Kira Kazantsev quietly deleted her LinkedIn profile this week after her work history came under attack by conservative critics. Many of the…

Career

Zosia Mamet explains why leaning in is not…

Zosia Mamet is living proof that even if you don't think you can get a job you're going for, you should still try. Along with…