From the Sugarplum Fairy to the Snow Queen, PBT dancer Gabrielle Thurlow will perform as many as 10 different roles throughout the The Nutcracker‘s 20 performance run. Here, Gabrielle discusses what’s like to prepare for so many different characters.
For this year’s run of The Nutcracker, you could be responsible for preparing for as many as 10 roles. Do you have any strategies for focusing on each one individually and preparing fully for each part?
I try to focus on one role at a time. For example, I spend one rehearsal hour working on one specific role. I then switch gears, and target another role for the next hour. I continue in this manner throughout the week until I have worked on each one separately. I may spend more time on certain roles that are more challenging for me, but I make sure to get to them all. When performances arrive, I focus on the roles that I am going to put on stage that day.
Which character do you have the most fun performing, and why? Which is the most rewarding?
The character that I have the most fun performing is Chinese because it’s so whimsical. I can’t help but smile when jumping and turning around with the ribbons. The character that I find most rewarding is Sugar plum fairy because it is so challenging. It is technically and artistically difficult, and it is also quite a workout for my stamina. I spend many hours working to make it the best I possibly can, and it feels good to finally get on stage and perform.
Over the course of 20 performances throughout December, do you find yourself refining or experimenting with your roles in any way?
Yes, once I get comfortable on stage, I feel like I can take certain risks within the choreography because I have several opportunities to perform the same role. I especially like to experiment with party scene. I like to create stories for the party guests that I portray, and each time I am on stage, their stories change.
Do you approach your rehearsals or studio time different during The Nutcracker season? Do you have any strategies to relax, keep your focus and clear your head as you juggle these roles?
I approach the Nutcracker season slightly different than I would during the rest of the season. I emphasize a lot more on stretching my muscles, as they tend to get tighter and more fatigued with such a heavy load of dancing. However, I still approach the actual rehearsals the same as I normally would throughout the season. Also, I continue to rely on Pilates to help me stay strong and properly aligned. Staying focused is not difficult for me because I know whatever I am working on is going to be put on stage, and I want to show my best possible work. To relax, I enjoy spending time with my dog (Winston, a mini schnauzer). He keeps things simple, and can always make me smile.
As someone with experience dancing multiple roles in The Nutcracker, how do you think this dynamic and unique casting benefits the overall production from the both the dancer and audience perspective?
I think the different casting helps keep the dancers inspired. Personally, I enjoy the unique casting because it gives me opportunities that I might not normally get as a corps member. I take this chance to grow as much as possible, both technically, as well as artistically. I think the dynamic casting also benefits the audience because they get an opportunity to see different dancers doing all different kinds of roles. It allows them to see the dancers’ versatility, while keeping the performances interesting.
Do you usually have any particular special guests or family members attend the performance?
Yes, my parents always come to see multiple shows. They are very supportive of my career, and I love knowing they are there for me out in the audience.
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions outside The Nutcracker?
I love going home (Buffalo, NY) and spending time with my family. We always decorate our tree together, and make a big brunch on Christmas morning, complete with homemade cinnamon rolls.