For dancers, “The Nutcracker” presents an almost militaristic hierarchy of roles: Many will start as mice and party girls. A select few will ascend to Sugar Plum Fairy.
“I was a baby mouse, and I just remember we had socks on our hands,” says Alynn Piccirillo, who will dance the Sugar Plum Fairy role in some of the Lexington Ballet’s “Nutcracker” performances this weekend and next at the Lexington Opera House. “Then I was a party girl constantly.”
When she got the lead child role of Marie (Clara, in many productions) at New Paltz School of Ballet in New York, she had a heady experience when Wendy Whelan, a Louisville native and longtime principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, danced the Sugar Plum role in that production. Whelan invited young Piccirillo into her dressing room at the end of the production and gave her the pointe shoes she wore in the show, signed.
I never thought I would get to dance Sugar Plum.
Alixandra Kish, who is the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Lexington Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’
Alixandra Kish, who shares the Lexington Ballet’s Sugar Plum role with Piccirillo, had a very different early experience with “Nutcracker.”
“I was too tall to be in ‘Nutcracker,’” says Kish, who trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts. “I was too tall to be a believable party child, is what they said.”
So she didn’t get her first “Nutcracker” role, flowers and snow, until she was 14.
For most of their careers, the Sugar Plum was a distant, unattainable goal.
“I never thought I would get to dance Sugar Plum. I always danced Arabian,” Kish says, referring to one of the show’s character dances.
The little girls in the lobby, they’re all dressed up, and they don’t even know what to do when they meet you.
Alynn Piccirillo, Sugar Plum Fairy in Lexington Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’
Now that they have the part, they appreciate its full impact.
“There is a lot of pressure to it,” Piccirillo says. “It’s the stamina, and the pas de deux work and the variation alone is so hard that there’s so much focus on it.”
But the focus is on the Sugar Plum, the magical being who makes everything right in the end. And that, the dancers say, is a big part of the joy of dancing the role.
“I love the kids. The little girls in the lobby, they’re all dressed up, and they don’t even know what to do when they meet you,” Piccirillo says. “We were them at one point.”