Mastering the roles of Marie and Uncle Drosselmeyer

Something as classic and traditional as The Nutcracker may seem well known to audiences, but staging for the ballet leaves plenty of room for artistic interpretation.

For OBC dancers Stephanie Salts and Damon Mahoney, their roles as Marie and Uncle Drosselmeyer in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker are a test to both their acting and dancing abilities.

With her first ballet class at age seven, and the start of her professional training at age 15 with the Rock School of Dance Education, Salts has experience as Marie going back to when she was 12 years old and first cast for the part.

“It was definitely the most enjoyable role I had ever performed,” Salts said. “Marie is curious, hopeful, and well intentioned.”

Salts has danced the part of Marie in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker since OBC first brought the production to the Paramount Theatre in 2010.

Photo by David DeSilva

Salts with Snowballs in the 2011 production. Photo by David DeSilva.

The role is physically demanding and choreographically challenging as Artistic Director Graham Lustig focuses the ballet’s narrative and spotlight on her character.

A title role in every sense of the word, the part requires the dancing chops of a well-trained professional. Salts says the decision to perform the ballet with a professional dancer as Marie “gives the story a stronger sense of romance” and “ties the story together in an effective manner.”

She manages to preserve her character’s youthful personality while mastering her steps en pointe by tapping into he own inner child “that still lives in me and keeps me curious,” Salts said.

As she matures into the role and becomes more familiar with the production, Salts is finding that utilizing all of her training to bring beautiful dancing to the stage in fact aids her in making Marie believable as a young girl.

“It’s like spending years living in a home,” she explained. “The longer you live there, the better you learn the details that give it its character.”

Salts has worked closely with Damon Mahoney over the past few years as Mahoney, too, takes his third turn with OBC and prepares for the whimsical Uncle Drosselmeyer.

“I’m happy that I get to be a fun, adventurous, and positive aspect of the ballet,” said Mahoney, who likes to think of Drosselmeyer as more like Dr. Who, drawing inspiration from the time-traveling science fiction character, than as an elderly relative.

“So many times Drosselmeyer is thought of as old,” Mahoney said. “I think of him as ageless.”

Mahoney also referred to his character as “magickal,” preferring the early Modern English spelling of the word to explain the mystery that surrounds Drosselmeyer.

And while Marie is without question the heroine to Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker, it is Drosselmeyer who drives most of the storyline. He is a constant figure in Marie’s dream and voyage, her link between the fantasy world of the Confiturembourg and reality at home.

To serve as Marie’s companion and protector for the journey, Drosselmeyer must be “devoted,” Mahoney said, “He loves Marie very deeply.” He also needs to have a flair for the dramatic as a “larger than life personality.”

Like Salts, Mahoney also is given more difficult choreography for Drosselmeyer than is seen in many productions.

For the dance of Polichinelle – made famous for the stilted dancer with a giant hoop skirt that hides young student dancers – he emerges as Drosselmeyer in two-foot-high stilt boots to dance with Marie, the Bonbons, and young clowns.

Mahoney likes “becoming a big, new creature” for the piece. “It’s fun because it’s scary,” he added.

As their rehearsals continue, Mahoney said that for The Nutcracker, dancers will “always have to work to keep the characters fresh and interesting.”

Salts echoed his thoughts.

“People come to see The Nutcracker with certain expectations and have most likely seen another production previously,” she said. “I feel the responsibility to show them something they have never before seen.”

– Milissa Payne Bradley  

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