In the labyrinthine backstage halls of the Benedum Center, there’s a sense of expectation in the air. Instead of a flurry of anxious activity, a hush hangs over the final pre-show hour like the calm before the storm (in our case the snow variety). After taking an onstage warm-up class, dancers duck into dressing rooms to undertake the meditative ritual of applying stage makeup, winding hair into buns, or curling it into corkscrew curls in “Marie’s” case. Slowly, costumed dancers – some nearly unrecognizable beneath wigs and specialty makeup – filter into the wings to stretch, refine a few movements or touch base with their partners.
This is Nutcracker season. And for four weeks and 26 performances, the Benedum Center becomes a home away from home for the dancers of PBT. With 26 unique casting combinations, artists have a lot to keep straight: Some dance as many as nine different roles throughout the run, so a well-stocked dressing room is the first step to a smooth (and cozy) Nutcracker run. Here, a handful of PBT dancers share a snapshot of their spots.
Alexandra Kochis, principal
“The space that is my dressing room at the theater is a lot of things. It’s a place to power up, it’s a place to reset. It’s a place to squeeze in a few moments of real-life productivity and a place to try and shut it all out for a while. But most of all, it’s a place of business. The business of putting on a show. It’s where I wrestle my hair into a bun, put the final touches on my makeup and don my pointe shoes. But, if you look closely, read between the lines of all this business, you will see little pieces of me – the tangibles behind the intangible. There’s the muscle rub that my pharmacist father-in-law recommended many moons ago that I now absolutely cannot live without. There’s the pair of earrings gifted as a ‘Merde’ present before a much cherished show. There’s the handmade blanket given to me by a student in which I wrap myself up every night as I prepare. All these little things make up a giant web – a safety net and support system. Because, at the end of the night, when the curtain comes down, there are no laurels to rest on, no masterpiece to hang on the wall. There is only the next show. And this is where it all starts.” – Alexandra Kochis
Jessica McCann, corps de ballet
“My most surprising/interesting things among all I bring to the theater might actually be a gift from my sister, that I usually subconsciously pack with everything else. I have a bracelet of petrified wood, and a blue stone/rock that is shaped to fit perfectly in your hand if you were to close your hand into a fist. I like having those items around. I suppose it makes me feel like family is closer, and sometimes holding them centers me. They’re calming, nice items and they also remind me of the forest and nature. We are so busy in the theater all day and all month, so it’s just nice to have around.
The dressing room definitely becomes a cozy sacred place during December. In the corps dressing room, we prepare for the show together in it, and it’s where we all end up at the end and talk about how the performance went. There’s tons of support in there from all the girls. Most of the time if it’s an early show, everyone will be silent, listening to music and getting in the zone and respecting the different preparation process each girl has. It’s very nice. For me, it’s always a sad feeling to pack up my space and leave when The Nutcracker is finished.” – Jessica McCann
Amanda Potts, corps de ballet
“For the month of December, this is my home away from home. Everything has its own specific place at my theater spot. My makeup is laid out so that I know where each pallet and brush is; my bobby pins are all together in a small glass jar just like my Grandmom keeps hers. I have my roles in each performance written out on blue sticky notes, which I put in the corner of my mirror. A candy cane full of Reese’s sits in the opposite corner for when I need a quick chocolate pick-me-up. Of course, I have my pointe shoes, headpieces, coffee and such, but, most importantly, I have my mini Christmas tree. This is my absolute favorite time of the year, and if I could, I would happily sit in front of my tree at home with coffee in hand, enjoying the view out my balcony window. However, since my tree from home definitely wouldn’t fit in the dressing room, I brought a little one to my theater spot that I can enjoy just as much. It reminds me of home and of family; a little piece of quiet comfort in the midst of a chaotic performance run.”
More from the dressing room…