From Wannabe Sheep to Shepherdess: My Experiences in "The Nutcracker"

Jill Rappaport ’13
Staff Writer

Over the Years: The transition from a Bon-Bon to a Flower. | Photo on left contributed by Jill Rappaport '13, photo on right by Kerry Long Photography.

Most people get excited for the holidays in December. However, I get to start my holiday festivities in August, when Nutcracker rehearsals begin.

Ever since I was five years old, I have been participating in my dance school’s performance of “The Nutcracker.” Although I have had many roles throughout the years and have loved each and every one of them, there are three roles that have thus far defined my experience in “The Nutcracker.”

The first defining role that comes to mind is my very first role, when I was an Angel. As an Angel at the bottom of the food chain it was essentially the easiest part. Although I was only on stage for probably about two minutes, I will never forget the lights hitting my face for the very first time. This role marked the start of a very long journey. As a five-year-old, I was an innocent little girl that easily pranced through life, just like an Angel does in the Nutcracker.

The second defining role of my Nutcracker experience is when I was a Flower. That  was the first “big part” I had in the Nutcracker because it was “on pointe,” which, in the dancing world, is a very big deal. Although seven other Flowers joined me, I was proud of my accomplishment; I had moved on from being in the background and started differentiating myself in the dance world. My life was like my role as a Flower. I was a happy, graceful little seventh grader: I started figuring out who I was, and what my purpose was in the world, although I was not fully an individual. Because I was joined by seven other Flowers, I was a Flower “blooming.” My teeth were in braces, my personality was forming, and I was ready to grow, and show the world my colors.

The last role thus far in my Nutcracker career that defines my experiences is my role this year, the shepherdess. Ever since I was five years old I wanted this part. Only some five year olds get to join the Shepherdess, as she dances to the flute, as sheep. I was not chosen as one of those lucky five-year olds. However, two years prior to my rejection, my sister was chosen to be one of the lucky sheep. Ever since I was not cast as a sheep, I always wanted to find a way into that scene. Nonetheless, I have always thought the choreography for the scene is beautiful. Now, as a tenth grader, I can now consider myself a true “Shepherdess.” What does it mean to be a Shepherdess? A Shepherdess is a leader. The Shepherdess has to herd the sheep. If a sheep falls, she has to pick them up, help them, and guide them on the right path. I can happily say that after many years of being a follower, or a Flower, I am now a “Shepherdess,” a leader.

If someone were to ask me at the end of each year what my highlight was I would not hesitate to reply that it was participating in the Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is always spectacular for me. Each year holds something old, the music and spirit, and something new, my part. My part is so much more than simply dancing; it is becoming. I have to become that doll, that snowflake that mouse.

Nutcracker is also so special to me because of the cast. Throughout the years I have made amazing friends with many different castmates. At the end of each Nutcracker, we manage to become closer and closer. I love how in the Nutcracker the Angel can be friends with the Solider and the Snow Queen can be friends with the Shepherdess. Although we are all really different, we all can agree that our friendships will last for a lifetime.

This year, on December 4th and 5th, I will be performing in my 11th Nutcracker, and I cannot wait! Nutcracker has not only become an annual occurrence for me, but it has become a part of me. I carry little bits of all my parts with me from throughout my 11 years. I will be extremely sad when I graduate as a senior and cannot participate in the Westport’s Academy of Dance’s Nutcracker. Yet, I know that at the end of those 13 years, I will have grown from a little girl into a woman. I cannot wait to see my last few Nutcrackers have in store for me!