In Act 2 of “The Nutcracker” ballet, Clara and the Prince travel to the Land of the Sweets, ruled over by the Sugar Plum Fairy and inhabited by dancers who are assigned countries, characters and confections. The pair is entertained by chocolate/Spain, marzipan/shepherdess, candy cane/Russia, coffee/Arabia, tea/China and Mother Ginger (she of the giant skirt hiding many dancing children). What’s with all the food? We called Linda MacArthur Miele, artistic director of the Maine State Ballet in Falmouth, for some answers. Our edited conversation follows:

Q: What is a sugarplum, anyway?

A: Do you mean the actual food? Or the actual dancer? It’s like figs and almonds crushed and a little citrus sometimes, and it’s mashed up into a little ball. And you roll it in sugar. I’ve never eaten one. I’ve been one, but I’ve never had one.

Q: Do the dancers know what sugarplums are? Do they ask?

A: I don’t think anybody knows what it is. I don’t. You are the first person who has ever asked me. There is a lot of marzipan going around. Marzipan is a little bit easier to come by. You can actually get marzipan in nice stores, covered in chocolate. The (dancers) will buy it for each other. But I’ve not had sugarplums. But I don’t get out much. I’m stuck in the theater. I live in the theater. It’s very possible the whole world is eating sugarplums every night. But I’m in the dark. I choreograph them. I clothe them. But I’ve never eaten them.

Q: What are coffee and tea doing in the Land of the Sweets?

A: There’s a party in that first act. These are all things Clara has seen at the party, and this is what she dreams of. Perhaps in Germany, all they had at a party was tea and coffee and confections?

Q: Do the set and costumes reflect the food theme?

A: (The set) looks like spun sugar. All pinks and rose colors. And giant large cupcakes. And giant large ice cream with cherries on top. It’s very beautiful.

Q: Are there other ballets that feature food?

A: There is one place in “Cinderella,” at the ball, where the jester comes in with oranges. And in our production, we juggle with actual oranges. In that era, especially, oranges really were a show. The prince is wealthy enough to be able to serve oranges to his guests. And “Alice in Wonderland” – there is a lot of food in “Alice in Wonderland.” There is a Lobster Quadrille; we didn’t just add that for Maine. It’s in the dance. And of course there are the tarts. (The Jack of Hearts steals the Queen’s jam tarts.)

Q: Do dancers eat a lot of candy?

A: I would say to the exclusion of any protein. (She laughs.) I think you find that most dancers have a sweet tooth, like everybody does, to be honest. Dancers are particularly excited if there is candy backstage.

Q: I suppose all that dancing must make the performers hungry?

A: We get pretty hungry. And nobody likes to eat before a show, because of nerves. But after a show, get out of the dancers’ way!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: There is a sign on my dressing room door that says, “If you are coming in here, you better have a hot chocolate with you.” During show week, don’t even bother Mrs. Miele unless you have a hot chocolate. I don’t drink coffee or tea but I’m a hot chocoholic. I also can be bribed for parts with chocolate. (She laughs.) That’s not really true.

Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at:

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Twitter: @pgrodinsky