Our treasured and talented company dancers, hailing from dozens of countries with unique backgrounds, are the backbone of Houston Ballet. The second facet we’ll be discovering in this three-part blog series is the performance aspect from two of our company dancers. Here are our Soloists Chun Wai Chan and Christopher Gray on character perspectives, performance challenges, and new moments in Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker.
Watch our video promo for Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker below:
“The Holiday Spirit”
Always an audience favorite, Houston Ballet’s Nutcracker season wouldn’t be complete without the many virtuosic performances by beloved company dancer Christopher Gray (He gave us some interesting performance facts last year’s in our ode to Ben Stevenson’s Nutcracker post.) He continues to leap into the hearts of countless audience members during this world premiere run of Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker.
Gray joined Houston Ballet in 2007 and was recently promoted to Soloist during the middle of the 2015/16 season. You can read all about him on his bio page.
Here’s Christopher Gray’s insight on our new Nutcracker!
Q: What roles are you performing this year?
So far I’ve only performed the Rat King and the Lead Russian, but later in December I’ll also move into Fritz, the soldier, blizzards, Drosselmeyer’s assistant, and the flowers corps.
Q: Do you have any favorite moments from Stanton’s The Nutcracker so far?
One of my favorite moments in the new production is the first entrance of the rats in Act I. Watching the company members pour out of the wings scratching, gnawing and grooming one another, jumping rope with their tails – it always makes me smile.
Q: Do you have any new traditions to add to your annual Nutcracker life as a company dancer?
No new traditions as of yet. But due to the amount of people in the show we’ve combined the men’s dressing rooms. I used to sit at a row with one other dancer and now there are five of us. It’s cramped, but I’ve been enjoying the camaraderie. No matter how difficult the show or situation, we are usually laughing and giving each other a hard time. That’s one of the greatest things about company life throughout the year- We’re in it together.
Q: How do you maintain your motivation when building this a holiday-specific ballet throughout the span of the entire year?
With this production we are creating our characters from the ground up. With a staging you’ve performed for many years it can be difficult to keep it growing. There’s definitely a temptation to play parts exactly as you did the year before especially if you feel it was successful. With a new production like this we have to find new inner monologues, characterizations, and nuances as we help bring the story to life. It can definitely be tough to stay motivated this time of year. Especially as we have already put a lot more Nutcracker hours in than usual. If there’s one thing I try to keep in the forefront of my mind during the tough times it’s that it’s for the kids. Some may be at their first ballet ever; some may never see another one. I try to do my best to give them the wonderful, lasting impression of dance they deserve.
Soloist Chun Wai Chan is one of a handful of company men thrust into the spotlight in the role of Nutcracker Prince following Principal dancer Connor Walsh’s unfortunate injury on opening night. It’s a pleasant surprise for Chan after first performing the full role in Ben Stevenson’s now retired production last year. And although the role of Nutcracker Prince is similar, the company men performing Nutcracker Prince in Welch’s production have a lot of new steps to learn.
Chan entered HBII in 2011 and later joined the company in 2012; his recent promotion to Soloist occurred at the end of our 2015/16 season. He’s recently been named one of Dance Magazine’s”25 to Watch.”You can read more about him on his bio page and be sure to follow him on his Instagram.
Here’s what Chun Wai Chan had to say about our new Nutcracker!
Q: How’s your experience been rehearsing and performing in this new production?
Dancing in Stanton’s Nutcracker feels very fresh and interesting; not only are the costume and sets new, you can also hear some missing pieces in the score that you normally would not hear before in other Nutcracker. And you experience different character perspectives on stage when you dance different roles, mostly because the stage crew help create that fantasy world full of magic and mystery.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment from this production so far?
My favorite moment is at the very end of Act I. I climb up the giant Christmas tree as the Nutcracker Prince, following the Snow Queen’s direction to find my Sugar Plum Fairy in the Kingdom of Sweets. That moment makes me feel like I really do live inside of that fantasy world.
Q: What are some challenges and triumphs about being part of The Nutcracker each year?
Dancing 39 shows of the same production in two months is a tough challenge for all of us, but my motivation simply comes from people’s happiness. The response from the audience encourages me to do a better job in every show. I am very grateful when I hear the joyful laugh and applause from the audience. The smiles from the younger audience members definitely remind me of the real reason why I’m dancing.
Check out these great studio to stage Nutcracker moments from Chun Wai’s Instagram account:
Tickets for Houston Ballet performances of The Nutcracker are on sale now by phone or online at our website with performances running until Tuesday December 27.
Be on the look out for the finale of this three-part blog series here at ‘En Pointe’ about Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker. You can read part one of this special Nutcracker blog series here.
Next week we reveal the many secrets of Houston Ballet’s Shoe Room during Nutcracker season!
Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet. She’s a Texas State University alumna, an active member of the Society of Dance History Scholars, and a freelance dance writer for Arts & Culture Texas and Houston’s The Dance DiSH.