Teen dancer lands dream role in "The Classical Nutcracker"Lake Middle School eighth grader Gretchen Gerlach will play the role of Clara in Ballet Minnesota's production of "The Classical Nutcracker" Dec. 14-16 at the O’Shaughnessy Theater at St. Catherine University.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Lake Middle School eighth grader Gretchen Gerlach first started ballet when she was 3 years old However, but she gave it up five years later when her family moved to California.
Shortly after the move, Gerlach’s grandmother took her to see the San Francisco Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Classical Nutcracker.”
“It made me want to start dancing again,” she said. “Obviously the dancing was amazing, but it was more the fact that there was acting involved and there’s a lot of emotion – it was just the whole thing put together.
“You can tell how much work they put into it.”
Now Gerlach will be performing the iconic role of Clara in the ballet that made her start dancing again.
Ballet Minnesota’s production of “The Classical Nutcracker” will run Dec. 14-16 at the O’Shaughnessy Theater at St. Catherine University.
“The Classical Nutcracker,” now in its 25th year, tells the story of a little girl named Clara who can’t fall asleep after a Christmas Eve party at her house. Clara dreams herself into a world where toys become larger than life. This is where she meets the Nutcracker Prince who defends her against the Mouse King.
A love of dance
Gerlach said she was naturally drawn to dance at an early age because she loved to perform.
“I don’t get nervous when I go on stage, so it’s just the aspect of performing for other people,” she said.
Ballet is Gerlach’s style of choice because it’s so technical.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way,” she said. “If you do something wrong, you can definitely fix it.”
Gerlach, who has been taking classes at the Classical Ballet Academy for the past three years, averages four two-hour ballet classes each week.
“The teachers are really strict, but they do everything out of love for dance and they want the best for you,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s a pretty encouraging environment.”
During performance times, Gerlach said she is typically at the school six days per week for classes and rehearsals.
Because of the number of hours she is doing ballet, Gerlach said she has had to give up a lot of her free time.
“Our schedules are really packed. There’s not a lot of room for other stuff,” she said. “In some ways it’s nice because you’ll always be dancing, and if you like it, that’s a good thing.
“In the long run I don’t mind it because when I’m not at dance I’m bored.”
In addition to ballet, Gerlach has studied contemporary dance at Classical Ballet Academy in addition to participating in summer intensive dance camps where she has dabbled in jazz, lyrical, modern and even flamenco.
“Now in the dance world, they don’t want just classical dancers,” she said. “They want people that can do as many styles as possible.”
Gerlach was home alone when the cast list for “The Classical Nutcracker” was posted to Ballet Minnesota’s website.
“We were super stressed about finding out who was going to be Clara because ever since you start dance it’s the one role every girl dreams of getting,” she said. “I kind of had a spaz attack because I was so excited, but then five minutes later it kicked in that this is going to be a lot of work.”
Gerlach will actually be sharing the role of Clara with two other dancers.
She will play Clara in three performances and the other dancers will each perform the role in two performances.
During the performances where Gerlach isn’t playing Clara, she will be featured in the “Porcelain Dolls” dance and the “Reed Flute” dance.
Gerlach said Clara is such a coveted role in the ballet world because it’s so challenging to play her.
“Clara is a really young girl, so it’s a role a lot of people want because it’s really challenging,” she said. “You have to go back to that place when getting a nutcracker for Christmas would be really cool.
“Plus, it’s a role that you’ve known for so long.”
Clara is also a challenging role because she is on stage for almost the entirety of the ballet, and sometimes she is the only dancer on stage.
“You can never break character because the role of Clara kind of drives the whole show,” Gerlach said. “So if the Clara falls apart, everything falls apart too.”
Since Clara is such a physically demanding role, Gerlach said she has been trying to eat healthy, has been taking vitamins, got a flu shot and has been trying to get plenty of sleep.
However, some things can’t be prevented, such as blisters, so she has had to skip out of a few gym classes at school.
In addition to being physically challenging, Gerlach said getting into the mindset of Clara has been a challenge for her.
“At first I thought it would be difficult to remember all of the choreography, but in the end that wasn’t something that was difficult for me,” she said. “The biggest challenge has been remembering that the role isn’t a teenager, it’s a young girl – it was hard for me not to act like my age.”
Gerlach said she is getting excited for the performance because she hopes she can help make “The Classical Nutcracker” mean to other children what it meant to her.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to be a part of this, so I want kids to have that same experience,” Gerlach said. “When I go on stage, I can’t be thinking about the choreography, I want to become Clara.”
Public performances Ballet Minnesota’s production of “The Classical Nutcracker” will be Dec. 14-15 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 15-16 at 2:30 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Theater at St. Catherine University. Visit http://summerdancecamp.com for ticket information.