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Ballet Hawaii's Pamela Taylor-Tongg reflects on 'The Nutcracker'


Pamela Taylor-Tongg, artistic director at Ballet Hawaii, reflects on 36 seasons of the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, and how, when mishaps occur, the Rats are often involved.

I DANCED with the Atlanta Ballet for 10 years, and we did 30 performances of Nutcracker a year. That’s 300 performances. In Hawaii I’ve been staging Nutcracker for 26 years. I don’t know if I ever will get sick of it, but I haven’t yet.

THE RATS always get into a lot of trouble because they’ve got such big heads, and it’s really hard to see where you’re going inside of there.

LAST YEAR during dress rehearsal, one of our Rats fell off the stage into the orchestra pit. We didn’t have an orchestra last year, and fortunately she didn’t get hurt. But she couldn’t find her way out. Finally, another Rat realized she wasn’t on stage anymore and got her. She’s actually one of our board members.

THE YEAR before that, the same Rat was also playing a Maid. She was backstage, in the dark, changing costumes in a hurry, and she put the Rat costume on backwards. She was trying frantically to pull it around, but the music started and she had to walk out onstage holding her tail in her hand out in front of her.

WHEN I was in Atlanta, the Rat King fell off the stage onto the cellist. Fortunately nobody was injured. But can you imagine going to the insurance company and explaining that a seven-headed rat just fell on you?

JOHN SELYA is one of the professional dancers from New York we bring in every year to dance the lead parts. He always does unexpected things, just for fun. He was the Soldier Doll last year. When they opened his box he fell out flat on his face. Everybody onstage thought he had passed out inside the box. Then he jumped up and started doing this hip-hop thing. He is always a character.

USUALLY THE professionals come in and it’s fairly smooth. One time there was a professional who ended up being pregnant. We had to enlarge her costume a little bit every day. She was the Snow Queen, who wears a white tutu, and Arabia, who has a bare midriff costume. That was interesting. 

WE WERE on Maui once, and one of our Rats fell and hit her head. I knew the choreography, so I had to jump in as a Rat that evening.

THE POLICHINELLES are the little clowns that run out of Mother Ginger’s enormous skirt. They really are little rascals. Once, they untied Mother Ginger’s tennis shoes. She’s up on stilts, and when she came out of her shoes, she went down and the whole costume just crumpled. The Polichinelles thought that would be funny.

WE TELL the little ones that they have to go to the bathroom before they put their costumes on. But every once in a while someone pees on the stage. Usually it happens in the battle scenes, and the culprit is one of the Mice or one of the Toys, when they’re picked up by the Rats. A Rat picks you up, you get scared and that’s what happens.

Ballet Hawaii will perform The Nutcracker at the Blaisdell Concert Hall December 20, 21 and 22. For more info, go to ballethawaii.org.

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Honolulu Magazine September 2020
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