#OverACupOfTealeaves: Caroline MacDonald of Nevada Ballet Theatre on the Ballet as a Holiday TraditionMay.09.2018
About Nutcracker #AfternoonTEALEAVES: Gifts of Time:
In time for the holidays, TEALEAVES, in a collaboration with 15+ ballet companies, 10+ luxury hotel partners, and an antiquarian horologist, launched the worldwide Nutcracker #AfternoonTEALEAVES: Gifts of Time initiative. The project is a twist to the traditional gift guide that offers experiential pairings to afternoon tea, themed after the story of the Nutcracker, and celebrates the arts, true craftsmanship, and spending quality time with others.
Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’.
#OverACupOfTealeaves: At TEALEAVES, we believe that the best “condiment” to any cup of TEALEAVES is a story to tell and wisdom to share. Our team had the opportunity to connect with Caroline MacDonald of Nevada Ballet Theatre, and here is what we learned.
Caroline MacDonald majestically handles multiple roles in The Nutcracker, gracefully moving between costume changes and multiple choreographies as she plays roles between Clara’s sisters, the flowers, and either the Chinese or Spanish divertissement.
Dancing since she was seven and transitioning into ballet in her early teens, MacDonald discovered a new appreciation for the classical dance.
“I decided that I wanted to take it more seriously and start going to a full time studio and make that be what I do. One of my favorite memories is the first time being on stage for Snow, when all of the snow starts falling on stage.”
Having trained as a ballerina for nine years, and dancing professionally for six, MacDonald joined Nevada Ballet Theatre four years ago, and has since performed in George Balanchine’s works, as well as such classics as Swan Lake and Giselle.
Discover how the ballet forms a part of holiday traditions for families and dancers alike.
TEALEAVES: What drew you to becoming a ballerina?
MacDonald: I love the discipline of being a ballerina, and I love dancing. It’s something I’ve done for a very long time now.I fell in love with the way ballet lets you move. I love the costumes. I love being on stage. And I love all the different opportunities you have to be an artist.
TEALEAVES: How long have you been a part of “The Nutcracker” performances, and what is the one best memory that you’ve had about “The Nutcracker?”
MacDonald: I have been a part of The Nutcracker for six years, and four of them have been here with Nevada Ballet Theatre – this is my fourth year dancing in our Nutcracker. One of my favorite memories is just the first time being on stage for Snow, when all of the snow starts falling on stage. It’s a really wonderful feeling and truly magical.
My first memory of The Nutcracker is pretty funny. I saw it before I had even started doing ballet, and I thought it was the most boring show that I had ever gone to. And my only memory of it was one of the bows falling off one of my shoes and I was really upset about that.
TEALEAVES: What are some of the most challenging things in a performance?
MacDonald: So in The Nutcracker in particular, there are lots of different roles. You may not realize it, but we’re all performing usually around four roles in one show. I’ll be performing at least three roles in every performance of The Nutcracker this season. Switching back and forth between all of those is definitely a challenge. There’s a lot of costume changes, lots of different choreography to remember. On stage, you never know what’s going to happen, so there’s a lot of making quick decisions and improvisation to make the show as good as it can possibly be every single night.
Ballet is also very hard on the body physically. If you think any professional athlete and the kinds of things they go through, ballerinas, ballet dancers, are very much the same way. We’re in a very physical career, so there’s a lot of stress being put on your joints, your muscles, and especially on your feet. Female dancers wear the pointe shoes, which are basically fancy paper mache shoes that will break down. They die eventually – you have to wear new shoes often. You have to deal with blisters and calluses and all the things that are hidden by the pretty shoe. There’s a lot going on underneath.
TEALEAVES: And there must be so much pressure too, from the audience and from the company. How do you balance those in your life and then also as you’re performing?
MacDonald: So that’s definitely a learned skill. Once you become a professional dancer, you’ve been in the field of ballet for long enough that you’ve gotten used to the feeling of being on stage. It’s always very exhilarating. You get nerves depending on the role – some will make you more nervous than others. But you get use to that, and you know there will always be mistakes made on stage, and that it’s something that happens often. The trick is to move past them.
The audience comes in loving ballet to begin with, so you have to realize that they’re here to see something they love watching, and that they appreciate what we do on stage. If something does happen, it’s a very forgiving stage in some ways.
TEALEAVES: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in The Nutcracker?
MacDonald: I would say the most rewarding part is being in a production that happens every year, and knowing that audiences come every season looking forward to it. It’s a part of their holiday traditions and I think it’s really special that we’re able to take part in it.
TEALEAVES: What are some iconic ballet moves or techniques that you’ve performed in “The Nutcracker” specifically, and how many hours did it take to perfect that?
MacDonald: The Nutcracker is a great example of having probably all the ballet steps in it. Every role’s a little bit different and certain steps show off different parts of ballet technique. This particular Nutcracker has a lot of waltzing, for instance with the flowers, the music is called “Waltz of the Flowers.” It’s very iconic music. That and the snow scene are some of the most iconic parts of The Nutcracker. Everybody recognizes it when there are women on stage dressed as the snowflakes and the snow is falling. It’s just a wonderful moment that happens in every single Nutcracker around the world.
TEALEAVES: What was the most challenging move in The Nutcracker for you?
MacDonald: Actually a funny story, in the Chinese divertissement, it was using the rhythmic gymnastic ribbons. It’s not as much even ballet skills as it is dealing with a prop in your hand. It was challenging to learn and really master how to use the prop. It’s my fourth year performing that role, and every year there’s always something, because the ribbon may tangle in your costume, or around your neck, which happened to me the first year doing it.
And then in every role I always has a few moments where it’s a tricky step or a tricky technique and you just have to get it in your body and work on it a lot.
TEALEAVES: What was one of the more difficult steps and how long did it take to really learn the move?
MacDonald: There’s a role in The Nutcracker called one of the summer fairies. She does a lot of pirouettes, which are turns – the audience might say twirling or spinning on stage. It’s something we train for in company class every single day.
One of the most challenging parts of putting that technique on stage is that all the lighting can be really disorienting. We spot our head to look at something to keep our balance, but when you have all the lighting it can be kind of distracting. And the audience is always in the dark. So you’re surrounded on the sides and top by bright lights with this darkness in front of you. It takes a lot of practice, and you have to go into it knowing that it’s going to throw your turns off a little bit, and you have to adjust once you’re on stage.
TEALEAVES: How often do you rehearse?
MacDonald: We rehearse six days a week for The Nutcracker. And we are in the studio from 10 to 6 p.m. every day. Sometimes we get some breaks during the day, but we’re there six days a week, 10 to 6, and that’s what makes the production happen.
TEALEAVES: How does ballet remain relevant, and how, in your opinion, do you make it more accessible and relatable to younger audiences and younger generations?
MacDonald: So ballet is something that has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. And I think it’s very important to keep it relevant to new audiences, so that way you still have new people coming and seeing the ballet. Our Nutcracker for instance is a very new production, it’s only been around for six years now. And it’s been modernized. The costumes look much more modern than they looked when The Nutcracker was first made. The sets are different, the advertisement is different. You need to figure out how to cater to the younger groups and make it seem interesting.
Ballet companies have also modified their season in general. Instead of doing many older classical ballets, it’s often mixed in with contemporary work now. Performances are set to more modern music, and audiences might recognize these little things and get more excited about the ballet. So that then draws in the audiences. And once they’ve educated themselves about ballet, they then appreciate the older classics as well. So it’s important to keep modern repertoire along with older classics.
In The Nutcracker, we still use all the original music that has always been in The Nutcracker. Within our season though, we have a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, which appeals to a much wider audience and gives us the exposure we need to grow our audience.
There have been ballets created to different rock music and pop music that can appeal to people if they hear that someone’s dancing to a certain artist they like, and they might come in and buy a ticket to see the show.
TEALEAVES: And where do you think the future of ballet is headed?
MacDonald: I think that ballet is definitely headed in a really interesting direction. It’s going to become a lot more involved, both through the internet and social media – there have already been so many new things being done with ballet that reaches a much wider audience and group of people. There are dancers being used in music videos now who are classical ballerinas – you never would have seen that years ago. I think the opportunities that audiences have to meet with dancers and interact with them have become much more common. I think the idea of a ballerina has evolved a lot, and people are beginning to really understand much more of what it is to be a dancer. And I think people are beginning to appreciate it a lot more. And I think that that is really important for ballet moving forward.
TEALEAVES: What message do you try to portray to your audience in your dance? Is it dependent on the role or based on the choreographer, or do like to add your personal touch as well?
MacDonald: I think it’s a mixture of all three actually. Both your role, your own personality, what has been coached to you by the person that runs the rehearsals. It’s a combination of that once you’re on stage. A lot of the time we end up bringing our own personality into the role as the last touch, and it helps create everything and make it more unique and exciting.
TEALEAVES: Do you have a favorite ballet or choreography that you’ve performed?
MacDonald: I absolutely love doing George Balanchine work. He’s a famous Russian choreographer who has done most of his work in America. And we’ve had the chance to do a lot of his performances here. Serenade is one of my favorites, and I just had the chance to dance in that again recently.
I also love doing a lot of the classics. Giselle and Swan Lake are two of my favorites, and both are extremely iconic ballets and very rewarding to dance.
TEALEAVES: How does your relationship with ballet change with time?
MacDonald: Ballet really shapes you as a person in addition to an artist. You learn so many different life skills in the studio that might not be as obvious at the time, but just the way you interact with people, the way you interact with yourself definitely evolves.
My relationship with ballet has changed in that I now love it even more so than before – learning new things and figuring out new ways to do steps. After a while, there are only so many ballet steps. Once you’ve learned them all, you’re still working on all of them every single day, and you need to find a way to make it interesting, a way to make yourself better. I love that aspect of it. You’re constantly improving and working on your technique and figuring out how you can become a better artist with the same material that you’re working with on a regular basis.
Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’.