Here’s the second part of my series on Nimbus Dance Works’ “Jersey City Nutcracker” – Behind the Scenes. Check it out on NJ.com and see some great photos taken by The Jersey Journal’s Lauren Casselberry.
Behind the scenes of ‘Jersey City Nutcracker’: The dress rehearsal
If you’ve ever been inside Grace Church Van Vorst in Jersey City before, you already know it’s pretty stunning.
When I arrived for the dress rehearsal for Nimbus Dance Works’ “Jersey City Nutcracker,” however, I saw a Grace Church I had never seen before.
The nave had been transformed into a beautiful stage complete with a dance floor, Christmas tree, spectacular lights and even a secret magical passage. (Try to figure out where it is before the show starts!)
I came in and found dancer PeiJu Chien-Pott, who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy and is the wife of Artistic Director Samuel Pott, was warming up while the show’s about 100 dancers ran about getting ready for the show.
The show is the company’s first full-length presentation of the classic. Last year, they tested the waters by performing the show’s second act.
Nimbus’s production offers a Chilltown take on the E. T. A. Hoffmann tale in which a lower-class boy and a wealthy girl whose friendship is threatened by their financial disparity and mocking from others. “It’s very ‘Jersey City’,” said Pott. “Here, the rich and poor cross paths and there are eccentrics, there are bullies.”
As the kids escaped their chaotic world in the fantastical realm of the Nutcracker, audiences were enraptured.
“Last year’s show turned out to be a real success. It really kind of took on a life of its own!” said Pott.
Last week, I had my first rehearsal as Mama Cannoli, the troupe’s version of the infamous Mother Ginger, who lifts up the skirt of her gigantic dress to reveal her dancing children, the Bon Bons. In the Nimbus show, the Bon Bons are replaced with “Cookies,” 12 dancers ages 5 and 6.
I sat in the audience for the Act 1 rehearsal, which didn’t involve me, and got to see the stars of the show introduce a gritty city “much like” Jersey City. The two young stars of the show shined as they found magic and hope for their town.
The narrative was well done and I was thoroughly impressed with the company’s storytelling abilities.
“It’s really a story about the power of imagination, fantasy and the holiday spirit to make a positive change in the world,” Pott said.
Next up was Act 2, which I thought I was in. No one looked for me, though, or paid me mind as I sat in plain view. I followed and called out to Fanny Gombert, who was in charge of my scene, but she didn’t seem to hear me. I figured maybe I misunderstood and I wasn’t supposed to go on anytime soon.
I saw the cart and hoop skirt for the Mama Cannoli costume in the wings and figured since the Italian flag-inspired dress hadn’t been put on the skirt that maybe the scene was much later.
A series of dancers, most under 18, performed dances in Act 2. There were “Liberty Angels” with glowing torches led by Nimbus dancer Jessica Einhorn as Lady Liberty, Spanish dancers with fans, Chinese dancers with flowing ribbons, fashionistas and more. Professional dancers Gombert and her partner Jean Rene-Homehr joined in the fun, performing an Arabian dance. When the stage manager said the dress rehearsal was being held for a costume change, I looked into the wings and saw the dress being assembled for the Cookies’ big scene.
It was my time to go on! I ran to the back and found the Cookies, Gombert, Einhorn and – a man dressed as Mama Cannoli! Last time I checked, I wasn’t a blond dude with a curly Cannoli wig on.
They realized their mistake – I was supposed to play Cannoli for this run!
The misunderstanding was quickly resolved as the “Macho Cannoli” (as I called him in my head), played by Nick Sciscione, slipped out of the costume and I slipped in. Now there was just one problem – fitting the gigantic dress through a tiny entrance to the stage.
Carefully, we did a dry-run to see if the dress could fit. The Cookies and the dancers under my dress slowly maneuvered the dress onto the stage, nearly knocking down a couple stage lights in the process, but eventually making it onstage and off. Pott decided that for the actual production, the set would need to be moved further back to give the dress some room.
Now we were ready to go.
I asked Sciscione what to do as he handed me my rolling pin and Gombert helped me with my wig.
He told me to wave and blow kisses. “Maybe when the Cookies come out you can go – ” he mimed a gasp.
“What do I do with my rolling pin?” I asked.
“Just play around with it,” he replied. “Have fun!”
As the cookies began wheeling me out, I kept his words in mind.
The music started and the dress rolled onto the stage. I smiled big and waved my arms, remembering what Gombert told me the week before – big arm movements! I smiled at the crowd, greeted the main characters Maria and Christopher and glowed with motherly pride as my little Cookies – dressed like sweet gingerbread children – did their dance. All in all, it was tons of fun and I vowed to do even better on Friday.
After our scene, I changed out of the dress and got to stand in the wings and watch the Sugar Plum section starring Chien-Pott and Michael Fernandez, which I must say, took my breath away.
Overall, the evening was filled with moments of brilliance when the actor-dancers hit all the right notes and near-chaos when things didn’t go quite as planned. That is, however, what dress rehearsals are all about – fixing the problems so the performance goes off without a hitch.
I performed in “Jersey City Nutcracker” on Friday – I’ll post about my full experience soon!