“We’re going to do pliés with arms up, in first position,” an instructor told the 47 5- and 6-year-olds standing on the cavernous Mainstage at Proctors Sunday afternoon.
“Ready, go: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,” she counted, as 94 little legs and 94 little arms tried to follow her lead.
The kids were trying out to be gingerbreads in Northeast Ballet Company’s 2013 production of The Nutcracker, which will be performed at Proctors Dec. 8 and 9.
Darlene Myers, founder and director of Northeast Ballet, knows what it’s like to audition as a young child: she started dancing at age 3.
“I know that feeling all too well,” she said Sunday as she prepared to watch the gingerbread hopefuls show their stuff.
“Some of them have no idea what this is like. Some of them have no idea what the stage is like, or they’ve never been on the stage. They’re scared to death,” she said.
For some, bad news
As nerve-wracking as it is for the kids, it’s just as bad for Myers. She said audition day is consistently the worst day of the year for her because not every little dancer who tries out will walk off with a part in the show.
“I don’t like saying no to the little kids. It’s terrible. I hate it,” she said. “It doesn’t get any easier. All these years, I don’t care, it’s the same when I have to look at a little child and say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have enough room for you.’ ”
There were tryouts Sunday for both children and adults, to fill a cast that should number around 120, but the softhearted Myers said she usually awards parts to about 140 dancers.
“My costume people have a fit, my board has a fit, but it’s hard for me,” she said.
Northeast Ballet has been the resident ballet company at Proctors since 1990, and every year open auditions have been held for the Nutcracker, drawing dancers from as far away as New York City and Syracuse.
Show differs each year
Although the plot of the show doesn’t change, it’s a different Nutcracker every year because the dancers change, and Myers changes the choreography to suit them.
“Clara, the lead child in Act 1, sometimes they’re really young. I don’t know, this year I think I might go older for a change,” she mused. “We always try to make it different for the public and give them something new to look forward to.”
Richard Gatta, who grew up in Scotia and now lives in New York City, was in his first Nutcracker show at Proctors when he was 7 years old. Since then, he’s been in 12 productions of the ballet, and has danced every possible role.
The assistant resident choreographer for the Broadway production of “Billy Elliot,” he just wrapped up a national and international tour and was helping Myers Sunday with Nutcracker casting.
He explained what it takes to win a role as a dancer in the show:
“We look for technique and we look for people that really have a background in ballet, but we also look for people that bring a presence with them,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids that just come, and whether their technique is high or not, they bring this kind of vibe with them that makes you want to watch them.”
There was plenty of that vibe on stage Sunday, as girls in pink tights and black leotards and boys in black pants and T-shirts pointed their toes and swung their arms with all the little-kid grace they could muster.
Those who got the nod will begin practicing Oct. 1.
Dancers cast in major roles will practice three times a week in addition to their regular dance training, to be ready for their first performance, The Nutcracker Tea at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Nov. 17.
“It’s coming quick,” Myers said.