After rehearsing for two months, it’s time to perform Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

Many of the dancers arrive at Merrill Auditorium more than 90 minutes before the show begins to prepare for their performances.

Dancers are assigned to dressing rooms with others from their classes, and boys are separated from the girls. The younger female dancers, who have roles such as soldiers, angels and reindeer, change into their costumes in a large auditorium-like room. Mothers assist with applying makeup and curling hair, and there is always a strong smell of hairspray in the air. The atmosphere in this dressing room is often chaotic, marked by searches for missing tights or bows.

The atmosphere in the dressing room where my class prepares is different. It is a smaller room walled with mirrors and makeup lights, and the dancers carefully apply their own theatrical makeup. We often obsess over whether blush and eyeliner are applied evenly. After makeup is completed, the dancers get into their costumes. I am an Arabian this year, and my group waits until the last possible moment to put our costumes on. The delicate Arabian costumes are made of chiffon, and the fear of ripping the pants prevents us from sitting down in them.

Once the performance begins, the music is piped into the dressing rooms so the dancers are aware of what is occurring on stage. Until they are called on stage, the dancers play card games or read books to pass the time.

While no one is discussing the upcoming performance, it’s clear that it is on everyone’s minds, and the energy is building.

Backstage, Holly Perkins, a junior at the Merriconeag Waldorf School who has a featured role as the Columbine Doll, is “inspired and excited” by the dancers performing before her, and feels that the first performance is a chance to “dance your heart out.” Emma Davis, a fourth-grader at Manchester Elementary School who is dancing the role of the Porcelain Doll, also admitted to being “really excited” before going on stage.

Before leaving the dressing rooms, groups of dancers will quickly run through the steps and check to make sure that the bright-red lipstick that we must wear is not on our teeth.

About 10 minutes before we are to perform, a volunteer escorts us to an area just outside the wings of the stage. The Arabian costumes are covered in coins, and when we breathe, the coins jingle — a noise that would be distracting to the audience if we were in the wings. As a result, we take our places in the wings only one or two minutes before we are due on stage.

Margaret Meserve, a freshman at Cheverus High School in Portland and an Arabian, feels that “waiting in the wings is the best feeling in the world. It’s what makes all the hard work worth it.” While I wait in the wings, I have a different feeling. I think about all the things that could go wrong with my costume.

On stage, I concentrate on staying in the character of an Arabian and on the steps. Veronica Druchniak, a sophomore at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish who is both a Snowflake and a Flower, “feels a wealth of emotions” on stage, “but it just comes down to the joy and excitement of the moment.” Zoe Ward, a sophomore at Fryeburg Academy who is a Flower and a Spaniard, has similar emotions. While she was “really nervous at first,” once she got on stage, “it was like a party.”

The dancers on stage work together as a team and are aware of each other’s movements to ensure that no one is out of sync.

This year, Elizabeth Dragoni, a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, and Nathaniel Dombek, a senior at Gorham High School, are partnered as the soloists for the Arabian dance, and I am able to admire their performances from just a few feet away. When the dance is over, the Arabians return to the dressing room to wait to dance in the finale.

Before the finale, the youngest dancers appear on stage as reindeer led by Rudolph, who is the smallest of the group. This year’s Rudolph, 4-year-old Anna Cook, said she “felt good” on stage. When I was 4, this was also my first part in “The Nutcracker,” and feeling good on stage inspired me to be in future productions.

Laura Frank is a sophomore at Portland High School. She has been studying ballet at Maine State Ballet for 11 years.



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