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#OverACupOfTEALEAVES: Jennifer Stahl of the San Francisco Ballet on the Sugar Plum Fairy

Dec.18.2017
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’. 

JOURNEY TO Nutcracker.AfternoonTealeaves.com

#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 Jennifer Stahl of the San Francisco Ballet, and here is what we learned.

Jennifer Stahl (© Erik Tomasson)

As Clara and the Nutcracker Prince enter the Land of Sweets, they’re greeted by a vision clad in a sparkling tutu, waltzing across the stage. Jennifer Stahl is the Sugar Plum Fairy, elegantly performing en pointe to the tune of the celesta’s water-like drops to celebrate the return of the Nutcracker Prince.  

Performing in a local production of the Nutcracker at the age of nine, Stahl danced the Spanish duet alongside her sister.

“We were with a small school, so we danced a lot of the roles with a lot of quick changes in between.”  

Active in tumbling, gymnastics, figure skating and dance from a young age, she found herself wanting to spend more of her time in ballet class. Joining the San Francisco Ballet in 2005 as an apprentice, she is now a principal dancer with a vast repertoire, performing both the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker performances during the holiday season.

Read on to understand how the Sugar Plum Fairy gives a great performance and how strongly ballet can make an audience feel.

 

TEALEAVES: How did dance become a part of your life?

Stahl: I feel like I’ve been dancing all my life; I grew up dancing in my living room and taking tumbling classes at the YMCA. I started classical ballet at eight-years-old and became a professional ballet dancer 12 years ago.

It really became a part of my life when I was figure skating. My coach wanted me to take ballet classes to improve my artistry and bring grace to my ice routines. Eventually, I found myself wanting to spend all my time in ballet classes, rather than on the ice.

 

TEALEAVES: Can you describe performing in the Nutcracker – it’s one of the most popular ballets, and must be challenging due to the number of performers and performances? 

Stahl: I call the Nutcracker season a marathon month – there are two shows a day for a few straight weeks.

The repetition is special as a performer though. You can have a familiar relationship with these roles on stage and can build and enjoy the experience more each year. While it’s amazing to perform that much, it also means being that much more diligent in taking care of your body, and getting enough rest to be able to make it through the 30-show run.

 

TEALEAVES: What is the timeline like to learn a new technique and new choreography?

Stahl: It depends on the style. Some feel more natural than others, but generally it can take a few days to a few weeks to understand it and embody the physicality of a new technique. 

 

TEALEAVES: How long does it take to perfect the iconic ballet movies, sequences and techniques found in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s role?

Stahl: Behind 10 minutes of performance lies countless hours of training.

I probably rehearse about 20 hours per role in the Nutcracker, but that doesn’t include the daily training and preparation that happens in Company ballet class every morning. This 75-minute morning ritual is a huge part of our preparation. Within class, we work to maintain and improve our technique, build stamina, and practice steps that appear in the choreography. On top of that, we usually dance for six hours a day.

The Sugar Plum Fairy has a wide range of steps from waltzing and turns to expansive jumps. It’s a challenging and really fun role as the choreography is very lush and uses the whole stage with different pathways for each sequence. 

 

TEALEAVES: What’s the most rewarding part of being in a renowned role such as the Sugar Plum Fairy, in such a classic and beloved ballet as the Nutcracker?

Stahl: To me, the Sugar Plum Fairy exudes generosity, warmth and joy. She is the ultimate gracious host. It’s rewarding to know that your role adds so much to the atmosphere and storyline of the Nutcracker’s 2nd Act. The choreography takes a lot of strength and stamina to execute, so it’s an added challenge to maintain this serene character. We have to be both elite athletes and expressive, adaptive, and graceful artists.

 

Jennifer Stahl (© Erik Tomasson)

TEALEAVES: Do you have a favorite ballet that you’ve performed? 

Stahl: Performing [Yuri Possokhov’s] Rite of Spring was a really special milestone in my career. It was an honor to work so closely with him and help bring a new version of this historic role to life. Anytime you’re a part of a new creation you see it develop from scratch so you become very invested in it. Also, immediately after the premiere I was promoted to soloist at the cast party. I have so many wonderful memories from that ballet. 

 

 

Jennifer Stahl (© Erik Tomasson)

TEALEAVES: How does your relationship with ballet change with time as you dance more and learn new choreography?

Stahl: My fondness and respect for ballet as an art form has grown a lot over the years. I’ve always loved dancing and how I feel doing it, but now I have a much greater appreciation for all that goes into a great performance and how strongly one can make an audience feel. It’s an incredible art form to be a part of.

With that in mind, how I value and evaluate my performance has also changed over time. When I was younger, I focused mostly on technical accuracy onstage. While this is still very important, it’s only half the goal. Now I come away more satisfied if my performance tells a story or speaks to the audience in an authentic way.

I get to express myself through movement and am pushed to explore my own limits physically, mentally, and emotionally – all while hopefully contributing something meaningful to the world.

 

TEALEAVES: How can ballet remain relevant and become more accessible and relatable to younger generations?

Stahl: If we can expose younger generations to ballet, then I believe the familiarity and understanding, and therefore excitement towards it will grow as well. Also, the more pop culture recognizes and embraces ballet, the better.

 

TEALEAVES: Where do you think the future of ballet is headed?

Stahl: More collaborations amongst all types of artists. As long as we continue to create and express our imaginations then the possibilities are endless and fascinating. Ballet projects similar to Netflix Originals – more perspectives, more imaginations, more stories.

 

Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’. 

 

JOURNEY TO Nutcracker.AfternoonTealeaves.com


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