Sarah K, Jessica, and Georgie

Have you ever wondered what happens behind-the-scenes when a ballet company goes on tour? Every Thanksgiving weekend, San Diego Ballet travels to Billings, Montana for an early run of Nutcracker performances. While the tour sometimes continues to two cities or more, visiting Billings has become a company tradition. It provides an opportunity for the company members—both new and returning—to bond, and everyone ends up with a few stories to tell.

By Cindy Case

Sarah K, Jessica, and Georgie
Sarah K, Jessica, and Georgie pose in their snow costumes after they’ve finished all their quick-changes in act I.

For our new dancers, performing in Billings may be the first time that they negotiate their (multiple!) quick changes. This tour, company dancers Sarah K., Jessica, and Georgie were in all three scenes of the first act. If you’ve ever spotted the same dancer reappearing on stage in a different costume, you may have wondered, “How did they change so quickly?” Two techniques helped make their quick changes happen: pre-setting and layering.

Pre-setting one’s costume at the side of the stage is an artform, with costume pieces arranged in the exact order that the dancer needs them. Layering one costume over another also makes a huge difference. In our Nutcracker, the ladies in the party scene and a few mice in the battle scene have one surprising thing in common: they’re all wearing their snow costumes. The layers of tulle give some extra shape to the party dresses and mouse costumes, and make it that much faster to get ready for the snow scene.

Tonah and Stephanie
Tonah and Stephanie in one of their less connected moments in the pas de deux.

From quick changes to 32 fouettés, ballet dancers are masters at making everything look easy. But things do occasionally go wrong onstage. In the middle of the grand pas de deux this year, Stephanie Maiorano and Tonatiuh Gomez had an unexpected problem: As Tonah brought Stephanie down from one of their overhead lifts, the back of her costume got caught on one of the buttons on the front of his tunic.

Fortunately, the two handled the situation professionally. Stephanie paused for a moment, distracting the audience with her rapid bourrée couru and beautiful upper-body movement while Tonah quickly unhooked their costumes. As far as the audience knew, nothing had ever happened.

Smiling San Diego Ballet dancers on their way to karaoke
Smiling San Diego Ballet dancers on their way to karaoke

Of course, the dancers didn’t spend the entire weekend in the theater. Billings, Montana has a small, charming downtown which offers local shops, restaurants, and karaoke! This last one is an SDB tradition, and sometimes includes a few Nutcracker in-jokes. This year, Zoe Marinello-Kohn sang “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen, which was particularly appropriate as she had just performed as our Snow Queen.

Matthew Frezzell’s rendition of “Copacabana,” meanwhile, was accompanied by the dancing talents of four company ladies. Their back-up dance, made up entirely on the spot and ending in the splits, was almost irreconcilable with the weekend of classical movement that had preceded it! It was perhaps the perfect way to end the weekend.

In San Diego, the company will bring The Nutcracker to the beautiful Copley Symphony Hall on December 29 and 30.