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Ballerina Dreams: Book 7
The Christmas Nutcracker
by Ann Bryant
Poppy, Jasmine and Rose are thrilled to have won parts in a professional production of The Nutcracker. But with demanding rehearsals and a whole host of new people to work with, the girls face many challenges.
Ann Bryant is both an author and a musician. She started her writing when she was young, writing a play when she was still at primary school. At school, one of her favourite activities was just hanging out with friends and Ann is happy to relive these times again with the girls of Silver Spires in the fantastic School Friends series. Ann now teaches music and drama as well as writing children's fiction, including the very successful Ballerina Dreams series.
Visit www.annbryant.co.uk to find out more.
THE CHRISTMAS NUTCRACKER
Chapter One: Poppy
Hi! I’m Poppy. And I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Well, actually, I’m one of the twenty-two luckiest girls in the world. You see, I’m about to go to London for my first rehearsal of the Nutcracker with a big professional ballet company. I still can’t believe that I was chosen at the audition, and I’m so, so excited.
I’m a student at the Coralie Charlton School of Ballet, and Miss Coralie, the Principal, is the greatest teacher ever. My best friends, Rose and Jasmine, think so too. Miss Coralie used to be a soloist with the Royal Ballet Company so she’s got very high standards. She’s also very strict and works us students really hard.
“She’s here! I can see her car pulling up!” I shouted up to Jasmine, who instantly came flying downstairs with her ballet bag, and a big beam on her face.
Rose was jumping up and down with excitement. “I can’t believe she’s actually come to see us off!”
That wasn’t strictly true. Miss Coralie knew Jasmine’s mum was taking us up to London on this first day of rehearsals and she’d promised to drop by to wish us luck on the big day as she was passing Jasmine’s house.
Jasmine opened the door and we all stood there, totally tongue-tied.
“Ready for a very special experience, girls?” Miss Coralie asked in her soft, clear voice.
We all nodded hard and I couldn’t help staring at her. We hardly ever see her out of her ballet clothes, but whenever we do, it’s easy to tell that she’s a dancer, because she’s so slim and strong with her straight back and her turned-out feet. Every move she makes is graceful and when she smiles you imagine her on a stage with her big eyes in a perfect face that looks as though someone’s carved it out of marble. Today, though, her face looked paler than usual and I thought her eyes seemed a bit tired too.
“Come in, come in,” said Jasmine’s mum, appearing at the door.
“No, I won’t hold you up.” Miss Coralie smiled. “I just wanted to wish the girls the best of luck.” She looked carefully at each of us and spoke gently but firmly. “I know you’ll do me proud.”
We nodded again and promised to try our very best.
“And I’ll be there in the audience on Christmas Eve to see you in your first performance,” she added.
A lovely excitement welled up inside me. I’d already thought that this Christmas would be the best ever, but now I knew it was going to be by far the best.
“What a beautiful lady!” sighed Jasmine’s mum as Miss Coralie got back in her car. Jasmine’s mum is French and quite dramatic. She looked at her watch. “Time to go. Now, you’re sure you’ve got everything, yes?”
We three got into the back of the car, but we didn’t talk at first. I think we were all thinking about Miss Coralie and what a brilliant ballet teacher she is. If it hadn’t been for her strict teaching and high standards we wouldn’t be on our way to our first rehearsal of the Nutcracker right now. That thought sent a big shiver of excitement and nervousness racing through my veins and got me thinking back to the time when Miss Coralie first told our grade-five class about the auditions.
“ Ballet Theatre UK,” she explained, “will be holding auditions in London for ballet students, boys and girls, from the whole country who would like to dance with their company in the Nutcracker at Christmas time. The performances will be from Christmas Eve to mid-January, including lots of matinees, at the Princess Theatre in London.”
When Miss Coralie first told us this incredible news, I remember the hairs on my arms standing up because I was so excited at the thought of dancing in a proper professional company. And the Nutcracker is such a Christmassy ballet that it would just be the most magical thing ever to be able to dance in it.
I knew that if I passed the audition it would mean lots of journeys back and forth to London for all the rehearsals, and I was slightly worried in case my parents said it was out of the question because of all the time and expense. Rose was a bit anxious about that too, but poor Jasmine was the most worried of the three of us, because her dad’s so strict about schoolwork, and we knew that the Nutcracker rehearsals started during the last week of term, which would mean missing school that week.
At first it felt like a miracle had happened when all three lots of parents said it was fine for us to audition. It was especially wonderful that Jasmine’s dad didn’t seem to mind.
“I can’t understand it,” Jasmine said. “He’s just so relaxed about it all.” But then her face fell. “Oh I get it,” she added in scarcely more than a whisper. “He doesn’t think I’m good enough to pass, so there’s not much risk of me missing school.”
Then Rose and I started to wonder if all our parents were secretly thinking the same thing, and in the end I asked my mum.
“Poppy,” she said, “there are going to be hundreds and hundreds of girls auditioning. You mustn’t get your hopes up, or you’ll only be disappointed.”
And then we’d started a new worry. It was Rose who’d dared to say the words out loud. “What if one of us gets in, but the other two don’t?”
“I know,” Jasmine and I said at exactly the same time, in the same anxious voices.
“Look!” cried Jasmine’s mum, bringing me back to the here and now. “Christmas trees! I shall pick one up on the way back from London.”
“And can we decorate it when I get home?” asked Jasmine, leaning forwards.
“Let’s wait till the weekend,” said her mum, “when you won’t be so tired.”
In the back of the car we three grinned at each other. Dancing in the Nutcracker with the first performance on Christmas Eve and Miss Coralie in the audience, then Christmas itself the next day. Everything felt so utterly perfect.
Jasmine’s mum dropped us off at the Ballet Theatre UK rehearsal studios, and as soon as
I set eyes on the big, old, red-brick building
I started feeling jittery, because this was where we’d auditioned. Someone came to meet us at the door and took us along to the changing room. She introduced herself as Sue, and told us she would be looking after us during the rehearsal time, and that she was called a chaperone. We all felt quite shy, but at least we three knew each other. There were quite a few girls there who didn’t know anyone at all. So we started to get changed and the rest of the girls gradually arrived. A girl called Tamsyn, who also goes to Miss Coralie’s, was the last to turn up. At Miss Coralie’s she always shows off about how supple she is and what a good dancer she is, and I wondered whether she would be the same here at Ballet Theatre UK.
Once we were all changed, Sue said she wanted us to walk round the room shaking hands with each other and introducing ourselves, while remembering as many names as possible.
“It’s an excellent way of getting to know one another,” she said, smiling round.
There was one girl, though, who didn’t even ask my name. She just told me she was called Amelia Kent and that she had danced with Ballet Theatre UK last year. Then she leaned forwards and sneered a bit. “The chaperone was much younger than Sue, by the way, and didn’t treat us like babies either.”
At the end of the introductions, Sue explained that there are two chaperones and that the other one is responsible for the boys, who have their own changing room. “Our job is to look after you students,” she said, “and make sure you’re dressed properly and are always in the right place at the right time…” Then she flashed a bit of a teachery look round us all. “And, of course, that you behave yourselves!”
I saw Amelia roll her eyes and start fiddling with her hair in front of the mirror.
“What do you think of Amelia?” Rose whispered to me and Jasmine when Sue had finished talking.
“Didn’t really like her,” I whispered back, as my eyes strayed over to where Amelia was still looking at herself in the mirror. She had pale gold hair scraped back into the tightest bun I’d ever seen. She also had big blue eyes and a perfect dancer’s body with long legs, narrow hips and a slim straight back.
“She was in Cinderella last year,” whispered Rose.
“I know… She must be really good,” I admitted.
“Have you seen who she’s talking to now?” asked Jasmine, pushing in one of Rose’s hairgrips properly for her. “Tamsyn.”
Rose rolled her eyes and grinned. “Do you think we ought to warn Amelia?”
I couldn’t help smiling. Tamsyn absolutely hates it if anyone gets more praise and attention than her.
“Anyone need any more help with hair or anything?” said Sue, and we shook our heads. Then, while she checked that our leotards, tights and shoes were neat and tidy, we all stood perfectly still and no one made a murmur.
“Good!” she said when the inspection was over.
Rose must have been holding her breath without realizing it because she suddenly let it out in a really noisy sigh and quite a few people giggled. Normally, things like that don’t bother Rose in the slightest, but even she must have been feeling a bit nervous because I saw her bite her lip and glance at Sue to check she hadn’t done anything wrong.
Next, Sue explained about the rehearsals. “You all met Miss Farraday, the ballet mistress, at the auditions. Well, she will be attending all rehearsals. You’ll also recognize Mr. Rivas from the auditions. He’s a very important person – the artistic director. The other person who will be there is Miss Porter, the choreologist…”
“Don’t you mean choreographer?” Tamsyn interrupted.
Sue didn’t exactly sigh, but she paused before she answered, and I think she was a bit irritated, even though she didn’t show it. “No, I mean choreologist. Miss Porter’s job is to know precisely where everyone should be on every single count of the music. The choreographer, Don Crowther, is here today too. He won’t necessarily come to all the rehearsals though. You’re allowed to call him Don…if you need to speak to him at all, that is.”
I gave Jasmine a sideways glance to see if she looked as terrified as I felt, but she was staring straight ahead. I wasn’t surprised. Jasmine always pays attention and does what she’s supposed to do, and never goes off into dreams like me, or plays around like Rose. No wonder she’s such a good dancer. She’s got the best discipline out of the three of us.
Sue had turned to lead us out of the changing room through to the rehearsal studio, but she stopped and turned back when she heard Tamsyn’s voice.
“Do we call Miss Farraday and Miss Porter – and what’s that other one – by their first names?”
Someone gave a little snort as if to say, what a stupid question, and I saw that it was Amelia.
“No, you call them Miss Farraday, Miss Porter and Mr. Rivas,” said Sue firmly. “Don Crowther is a guest choreographer and not part of the artistic staff at Ballet Theatre UK. But that doesn’t mean that you can be disrespectful, of course.” She paused and raised her eyebrows. “Any more questions?”
If I’d been spoken to like that I wouldn’t have said another word because it had sounded like Sue was putting Tamsyn in her place, but Tamsyn didn’t seem to notice. “We can call the actual professional dancers by their first names, though, can’t we?” she said in her usual loud voice.
“There really won’t be time for talking to the professional dancers,” said Sue, sounding impatient now. “They’ll be concentrating hard on learning their roles too, and you mustn’t distract them.”
“Will they be here today?” asked a girl, who I think was called Sasha.
“No, dear. The first few rehearsals are for you students alone, so you can learn all the steps.” Sue glanced at her watch. “Right, we really must go. Follow me and don’t talk from now on.”
This bit reminded me of Miss Coralie’s. We always have to be quiet when we’re lining up outside class. Sue led us down a corridor, and I heard another door open behind us and turned round to see the boys following us silently with their chaperone. I looked out for Kieran, who’s another student of Miss Coralie’s. He grinned at Rose and she gave him a thumbs-up, because she knows him better than Jasmine and I do. Then we all went through some double doors and round a corner, where Sue suddenly stopped. She turned round and put a finger on her lips to make sure we were all silent, before opening a door to show a beautiful big studio. Immediately, light flooded into the corridor and made a swarm of butterflies whizz round my stomach.
Amelia was at the front of the line and didn’t hesitate at all, just marched straight in. I suppose she felt confident because of having done it last year. If it had been me at the front, I would have tiptoed in on shaky legs and hoped that someone might overtake me.
“Come on in, that’s right,” said the man who’d been at the auditions. So this was the artistic director – Mr. Rivas.
I recognized Miss Farraday from the audition too. She and Mr. Rivas were poring over some papers together. She looked up quickly and gave a sort of distracted smile, then frowned back at the papers, with her pen jabbing away on whatever was written there. Another man, who must have been the choreographer, Don Crowther, was wearing tracksuit bottoms and a vest top and didn’t even look at us as we trooped in. He was deep in thought, his hands moving in the same pattern as his dancing feet. It’s called marking when you dance something through roughly like that.
“Sit down here,” Sue told us all in a low voice, “and wait quietly until someone is ready to talk to you.” Then she hurried out.
I sat down next to Jasmine and Rose, and watched the pianist. I’d always thought that Mrs. Marsden, who plays the piano at Miss Coralie’s, was the best pianist in the world, but this man seemed like a magician, the way his fingers rattled up and down the piano keys, only pausing for a split second to slap the page of music over. I’ve got the CD of the Nutcracker, so I recognized the music. It’s one of my favourite pieces.
“Can I have the beginning of that section once more, Andy?” said the man in the tracksuit bottoms to the pianist.
“That must be Don Crowther,” Jasmine whispered.
Andy started playing the same music that we’d had at the audition, and it immediately brought the memories flooding back.
The audition had been like a proper class with about fifty students, including Jasmine, Rose and me. It had taken place in another studio in this same building. Miss Farraday had taken the class, and Mr. Rivas had watched carefully too.
I can’t remember a single thing about the first twenty minutes because of being so nervous.
I just remember that when we stopped doing set steps and were told that we could improvise any steps we wanted, I’d felt so happy. It was as though I’d been dancing up to my waist in a lake up until that moment, with my legs struggling to move properly against the weight of the water, but then it had suddenly all evaporated and I was dancing freely.
The pianist had filled the room with his music and I’d filled the room with my dancing, because there were only four students at a time dancing in this part of the audition, so it felt like I had all the space in the world. Even when the last note had faded away, it was as though I was still on the highest cloud, hearing the music in my head. Mr. Rivas had looked at me for such a long time that in the end I’d gone red. And that was when he’d suddenly said, “Right, thank you. Next group.” And I’d come out of my dancing dream and scuttled back to my place feeling embarrassed and on top of the world. Later, when we went off to be collected by our parents, another lot of students arrived. Apparently, the auditions went on for two solid days.
“Okay, let’s make a start.”
And now I was being pulled out of my dancing dream for the second time, right back to the here and now, because another balletic-looking lady had come into the studio and all four adults were standing in front of us.
My heart started to beat a bit faster. It had suddenly hit me that the rehearsal was about to begin, and from this moment on I had to prove that I was as good as they’d thought I was at the auditions. That was scary because I felt sure it must have only been the free dance that had got me through the audition. But now I was going to have to learn complicated sequences of steps and remember placings and positions and make sure I used my best technique the whole time. I shivered.
It was all right for Jasmine. She had the brain to remember sequences of steps, and her technique was brilliant. And Rose and Tamsyn were the most flexible girls in Miss Coralie’s and both really good at turning out. People always said I had good expression in my dancing, but that’s not as important as the other things when you’re learning a new dance. What if the adults here realized they’d made a mistake and decided I wasn’t good enough after all? I kept on thinking about what Mr. Rivas had said at the end of the auditions. “Remember, please, that even those of you who pass the audition are always on trial and if either your attitude or your dancing is unsatisfactory, you can easily
I had to tell myself to stop worrying and being silly, and start focusing, because Don, the choreographer, was talking.
“Right, everybody. I’m sure you all know the story of the Nutcracker, so now I’m going to explain how you, the students, will fit into our particular interpretation of the ballet, and as I’m talking, I’d like you to picture the scenes. Feel the magic. Close your eyes if it helps.”
I glanced round to check whether the others were closing their eyes, and saw that most of the boys, including Kieran, had just put their heads down and were staring at the floor. But nearly all the girls had closed their eyes, so I did too, and the characters came to life as Don talked.
“In the Christmas party scene at the start of the ballet, I want the characters of the children to come through, as well as their excitement about Christmas. But it’s not just about acting – otherwise this might as well be a play. I’ve choreographed this scene quite densely. That is to say, there are lots of steps to learn and a lot of individual responsibility to be taken. For example, when Drosselmeyer has shown off his mechanical dolls, one of the children imitates the stiff jerky action of the dolls, to amuse her friends. This will be a difficult solo, and whoever we choose to do it will have to be very flexible indeed.” Don chuckled. “The word ‘challenging’ springs to mind!”
I hugged my knees when I heard that because I thought it sounded brilliant, and I was just imagining how good Rose would be as the mechanical doll because she’s incredibly flexible.
“So, in Act One,” Don went on, “each of you will either take the part of a child at the party, or of a mouse in the battle scene with the soldiers.”
I was hoping like mad that I’d be chosen as one of the children at the party, but there was no time to think about that because Don was carrying on to tell us about the second part of the ballet.
“In Act Two, which takes place in the Kingdom of Sweets, Clara watches all the different dances, and I want the stage to both look and feel like the most magical place that ever existed. Our costumes and scenery are stunning and I expect our dancing to be equally stunning. Some of you students will have a role in the Bonbons dance, in which the choreography is simple but effective, so you must perform the steps absolutely perfectly. Some of you will be in the Mirlitons dance, which again is simple but strong, and both these dances are for students only. The remaining few of you will be in the Waltz of the Flowers, which is a very demanding dance for both students and professional dancers. I nearly choreographed the dance for the professionals only, but I decided to give the students a chance and I’m hoping that it will be exquisite.”
I love the word “exquisite”. It means perfectly beautiful and expressive. It would be the best thing ever if I were chosen for this dance because Waltz of the Flowers is my very favourite music in the world.
“The end of the ballet will be a positive whirlwind, when all the dancers come together,” said Don. “It will also be very tricky to rehearse, but I’m sure we’ll manage it if everyone is prepared to try their hardest, one hundred per cent of the time.”
I opened my eyes and looked round in a bit of a daze, but immediately snapped out of it because Miss Farraday, the ballet mistress, was talking now.
“All right, listen up. As Don said, there are two acts in Nutcracker. Every one of you will be dancing two different roles – one in Act One and one in Act Two. There are only twenty children needed in each performance, but there are forty of you here because, of course, there are two casts.”
My heart started banging and I could feel my face turning white because I hadn’t realized there were going to be two different casts.
I immediately looked at Jasmine and Rose and saw that they hadn’t realized either, and then
I was sitting up as straight as I could, not that that would make any difference now because the two casts must have already been decided.
It was just that I was desperate for Rose, Jasmine and me to be in the same cast, dancing in the same performances.
“I’ll read out the names in alphabetical order of those students in the first cast.” And before I knew it she’d said, “Jasmine Ayed, Rose Bedford…” I held my breath. Please let it be me too. Please let it… Amelia Kent’s name was read out and that’s when I felt Jasmine reaching for my hand. She wanted to do a thumb-thumb, which is when we all three press our thumbs together for good luck. I felt for Rose’s hand. She pressed her thumb against mine and we sat there holding our breath. But it didn’t work. The next thing I knew, Miss Farraday was saying, “Right, the rest of you are in the second cast.”
In the row in front of me, Tamsyn’s shoulders drooped. She was obviously wishing she’d been chosen for the first cast too. Kieran would be in the second cast with me, but that wasn’t anything like the same as having Jasmine and Rose. But then a huge spark of happiness made me feel a hundred times better, when
Miss Farraday announced which roles we’d all be dancing, and it turned out that Jasmine, Rose and I had all been chosen as children at the Christmas party in Act One, and dancers in the Waltz of the Flowers in Act Two.
“’Scuse me,” said Tamsyn, sticking her hand up.
Miss Farraday looked surprised that anyone was asking a question. “Yes…?”
“Are we allowed to swap casts if we want?”
I saw a look pass amongst the adults. It was Mr. Rivas, the artistic director, who answered Tamsyn in a quiet voice.
“Absolutely not. The casts have been selected carefully. It’s all about colouring, height, the way you dance… But I must stress that the first cast is no better than the second. Both are equally good.” Then he suddenly turned even more businesslike. “Let’s get started. First, warm-up.”
For the second time that morning, I told myself to stop being silly. It wasn’t the end of the world that I wouldn’t be dancing with Rose and Jazz. I was amazingly lucky to have got into the Nutcracker in the first place, and I must keep remembering that.
But there was still a little shadow hanging over me about that, and I knew I’d have to talk to myself many more times to make it go away.
If you're mad about dancing, you'll love these Ballerina Dreams stories by Ann Bryant.
Disney Girl Magazine
An amazing amount of tears, tension and true grit is packed into this short novel. Sure to be a hit.
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