The Nutcracker Ballet is such an intrinsic part of Christmas that it would be difficult to imagine a world without the music, and without the well-known story performed through dance. The reason why the ballet is so magical is the cast of children who convey all of the new wonder of the season.
When I was young, my favorite part of the ballet was watching the tree grow from the normal-sized tree of the party scene to the enormous tree of the fight with the Rat King. I’ve never gotten over the dramatic swell of music as the tree grows until the dancers look mouse-sized.
In Orlando, the Nutcracker is danced to choreography initially created by artistic director Fernando Bujones, with additional choreography by current artistic director Robert Hill. But the important liaison between the professional company of Orlando Ballet and the talented children from Orlando Ballet School is School Performance Coordinator (and woman with many hats in her 23-year legacy with the school), Bevalie Pritchard.
Ms. Pritchard revealed to us a bit more of her history below. She is an energetic visionary for the school, and it’s clear to see what drives Orlando Ballet School’s success. Jen and I got a chance to talk to Ms. Pritchard during the height of very intense rehearsals for the upcoming ballet, to get an idea of all the work that goes into growing a ballet school, as well into the literal nuts and bolts behind the Nutcracker itself. (Key word: spreadsheets.)
Ms. Pritchard’s story in Orlando begins with her own children
Achariya: Starting with the Nutcracker, I know that you are a former dancer — how many Nutcrackers have you been in as a performer?
Ms. Pritchard: Oh goodness. I grew up in Atlanta Ballet, at Atlanta Ballet School. I went to college and got my BA degree in ballet, as well as my teaching degree, and danced with the Bristol Concert Ballet Company, a small regional company. My college has closed, Virginia Intermont College. I danced with them through school, and so I’ve done many, many Nutcrackers. I couldn’t even begin to count. Every one is always fun and different.
Achariya: What’s your favorite role from the Nutcracker that you’ve danced?
Ms. Pritchard: Probably Dew Drop fairy, which is in Waltz of the Flowers (with Bristol Concert Ballet Company), as well as Snow Corp and Flowers Corp.
Achariya: Whose choreography?
Ms. Pritchard: Bristol Concert Ballet Company was under the direction of Constance Hardinge, we were very involved in SERBA — Southeastern Regional Ballet Association. Growing up at Atlanta Ballet School when Robert Barnett was Artistic Director at Atlanta Ballet, at some point I was a Party Child, Soldier, and also danced in their Junior Company.
Jen: What brought you to Florida?
Ms. Pritchard: My husband, Philip Pritchard, and I have been married 34 years. I am originally from Atlanta, was a Flight Attendant for almost 9 years, and took a ballet class in cities wherever I had a layover. We moved to Orlando when Phillip was promoted to VP of Operations nationally for Red Lobster, at that time under Darden Restaurants.
Jen: All the cheddar biscuits you could have!
Ms. Pritchard: Yes, that’s exactly right. At the age of 4 and 5, I found Southern Ballet for my two daughters Alison and Erin, who grew up in the school to eventually become Trainees with the Company when Fernando Bujones [the former artistic director, who passed away from cancer in 2005] was here. What an amazing man, there was so much to learn from Fernando, and I am so grateful that my daughters had such a wonderful experience when he was here.
I will never forget the day when Barbara Riggins, one of Southern Ballet Theater’s original founders, came in and sat right next to me while I was waiting for my children to come out of class, and said, ‘I hear you teach ballet.’ I said, ‘I do, but I’m very busy with my children.’ At that point I also had a third child called Kyle (three children in five years!) But she kindly asked, ‘Could you substitute teach here and there?’ and I replied, ‘Of course.’ That’s where it all started, and I am in my 23rd year with Orlando Ballet School.
Jen: Do you have any introspection on that time?
Ms. Pritchard: A lot of changes have gone on, but amazing changes.
Achariya: Including a very big one coming up, with the new facility.
Ms. Pritchard: We’re so excited about it. It’s right across the street. It’s going to be wonderful to have the professional Company under one roof with the school. In growing up within a professional school, Atlanta Ballet, I have always been in that environment. I truly think that that’s such an inspiration for young children.
As well as School Performance Coordinator and Nutcracker Coordinator, I am Department Head of the Young Dancer Division with Orlando Ballet School. When Orlando Ballet Students are involved in any of the professional productions with Robert Hill [Orlando Ballet’s Artistic Director], I am there with parent communication, rehearsal assistance, and scheduling.
Achariya: We saw Orlando Ballet School students in Romeo and Juliet. I remembered how poised they looked.
Ms. Pritchard: Thank you. Yes, they worked very hard. Both myself and Kim Marsh (Assistant to the School Director), as well as other Faculty Teachers all contribute to their rehearsals to get them polished for performances. An audition is held in the school for selection. Robert Hill is wonderful with the students too, and he loves to have the school students involved in the professional performances as much as possible.
Jen: He’s great with adults, so I can see how he’d be amazing with children.
Ms. Pritchard: Robert has such a beautiful vision for the school, and for the company. He has such a camaraderie with Shane [Jewell, Orlando Ballet executive director]. It’s fabulous to work with a professional group. I’ve been here a long time, I think I’m probably a —
Achariya: We’ll call it a ‘foundational’ teacher!
Ms. Pritchard: That’s exactly right. [Laughs] I have many students that are in American Ballet Theater and Houston Ballet, and Tulsa. My daughter Erin danced professionally with Houston Ballet and with Tulsa Ballet. She is now moving on to be a chiropractic physician.
Jen: Wonderful, congratulations!
Orlando Ballet’s student dancers are growing in a larger dance community
Achariya: What dance that you have helped rehearse and stage do you think best showcases the students?
Ms. Pritchard: Susan Jones came down from American Ballet Theater and set Don Quixote for the company. Auditions were held for students from the school for the Small Cupids role. It was beautifully rehearsed with the Company and Susan Jones’s fabulous staging. They worked very hard. The Small Cupids are in the second act, in the Dream Scene. I just thought that that opportunity was quite exquisite for them.
We also did the tribute for Harriett Lake and children were selected for Annie. This was directed by our Company dancer at that time (Chiaki Yasukawa) and assisted by myself and Heidi Towle, one of our faculty teachers who has had a history in musical theater.
Did you see Carmina?
Achariya: We did. That was such a jolt of energy. We reviewed it for our site. I love how Mr. Hill choreographs small groups of dancers dancing with each other. Small groups interacting with each other, be it five or six or seven, he’s able to really focus down on the pairs and their chemistry and how they play off each other, and he clearly knows each dancer in the company to a point where he can just work with them.
After Nutcracker, what ballet are you getting them ready for?
Ms. Pritchard: We don’t know of anything yet. We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities unfold for the professional company!
Jen: I saw a preview with Contemporary Wonders and that was really fantastic.
Achariya: I’ve read articles that Orlando Ballet has been producing more graduates that go on to professional dance schools than many ballets in the nation. Have you seen that grow through the years?
Ms. Pritchard: I really have! Being here from the foundation up, seeing these children come through the school, and observing their technical growth, as well as learning life skills of growth in self esteem, dedication and self confidence have been beautiful tools for our young artists. The Orlando Ballet School is an affiliated school with American Ballet Theatre Curriculum. We just finished Primary through Level 2B Exams over the weekend of November 10th and 11th, with Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens (American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum Associate Emeritus) were here to exam the students in their classes. This is a memorized class, portraying all the elements/curriculum of their specific levels.
Achariya: Have you seen a lot of growth and support in the Orlando community for the school?
Ms. Pritchard: I really have. Plus with getting a new building, there’s been such an interest in and such an excitement for it. There’s been increased enrollment, too.
Achariya: You have now seen ballet schools in action from when you were in ballet school and your children were in ballet schools. Now you’re running a ballet school. What do you think the best change has been? Has it been to nutrition? Has it been to facilities? Has it been to technology?
Ms. Pritchard: I think it’s a mix of all of that. Every child deserves to be in a studio to learn this beautiful art form. Dance is for all children.
Achariya: Inclusion of the community.
Ms. Pritchard: Yes, inclusion of the community. We offer so many different varieties of dance genre. We have a Young Dancer Division, a Pre-Professional Division Ballet, an Academy Trainee Program as well as our 2nd company. I am a Certified Teacher in Zena Rommett Floor Barre®. Sherry Zunker’s “Be Moved”. Some students drive hours to be in the academy. Some families move here so their children can study with us. We all at OBS have a big heart for these students, and we believe in the Organization and its future growth.
We can’t determine at young ages whether children are going to be professionals or not. Children should love the art of dance for as long as they can, whether they become professionals, or dance in college, or become our most valued patrons.
I share with the students all the time in the classroom, the three most important words are Accountability, Responsibility, and Specificity. I teach them to be accountable for themselves, responsible for taking care of themselves — good rest, sleep. Homework kept up, and then also about specificity for the intensity of their technique and the perfection of the technique.
Behind the scenes, the Nutcracker requires communication above all
Achariya: Is Robert’s choreography being using for this Nutcracker?
Ms. Pritchard: Yes! Robert has made a lot of changes to the original choreography when Fernando had set the ballet. He has made revisions to Snow and Flowers, Chinese, Act 1 Party Scene and other parts of the ballet.
Nutcracker is the ballet school’s greatest reward. This is our first year to have a casting selection process. The children that represent the school and perform with the company understand that this is a professional production, their technique is polished thru weekly rehearsals from Audition all the way to performances.
Jen: It’s early exposure to professionalism.
Ms. Pritchard: Absolutely, it is. I think it gives them that exposure, and plus it gives them something to look forward to. I’m such a firm believer in a professional company atmosphere. We have about 158 students in Nutcracker, and they are dancing on different nights, different Matinees and school matinees performing for the young students in the Orange County School System.
Jen: What’s the youngest age of the dancers?
Ms. Pritchard: Our [Nutcracker’s] small mice begin at the age of seven, from our primary “C” class. I have 37 of them! Rehearsals are such fun!
Achariya: I remember being the same age, in the same role, in Nutcracker. And I remember not always paying attention.
Ms. Pritchard: The students know the importance of their presence in the ballet because they have been selected, so they really step up to the plate. I don’t seem to have any trouble with them not paying attention. They understand the learning process, and that focus, and attention to detail helps them to get ready for performing.
It is also such an opportunity for the children too, because they have the opportunity to be backstage at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, especially the little mice, for the first time. They love seeing the Mouse King, and Sugar Plum Fairy, it’s very magical!
Achariya: For the choreography, how is it scaled down to suit the bodies and ability of the students, through their different ages?
Ms. Pritchard: So much is due to height, costume fitting, their technical ability, and their stage presence when they take the audition. We see so much when the students present themselves and perform at the Audition.
I have been coordinating the Nutcracker for quite a long time, and every year it just gets better and more organized. I have the assistance of the administrators and the parent volunteers that we lean on for help with dressing rooms, crowd control, and keeping the children occupied. We really love that our volunteers are involved, it is a huge help. The staff teachers are involved with the students as well. It really takes a village!
Jen: I was thinking that!
Ms. Pritchard: We have a great administrative team here, it’s the backbone, and it all comes so strongly together,
Jen: I was going to say, I can’t imagine the logistics of moving around 156 students, in all those different roles, at all those different times.
Ms. Pritchard: There is a lot of scheduling and paperwork, Performance Grids that I write out for each performance — every part goes on the Grid, along with all the dates of each performance , the call times, the parents’ pickup time… even as far as organizing when children are in two parts, but the parts are too close together to do a quick change, or there is intermission. It just goes on and on.
Jen: And it’s children, so it’s not like you can say, ‘Be there at 9 o’clock!’ and that’s the end of it.
Ms. Pritchard: Exactly! Communication is huge with the students and the parents. The biggest part of my job is communication emails with the parents. They need to know: who has my child, when do you have my child, where is my child, who’s backstage with them. All of that transparent communication absolutely must be solid for the parents.
Parents have the live document for the Rehearsal Schedule, which is updated on a regular basis. This solid communication works well. We have postmortem Nutcracker meetings about how we can perfect even better for next year as well.
Achariya: Any words to wrap up our chat?
Ms. Pritchard: I’m just very excited about our organization! Robert Hill and Shane Jewell along with the Board of Directors and our Interim School Director, Phillip Broomhead, have a plan! Moving into our new location in the future, along with amazing teachers in the School and our Administrative Staff — we are a family of growth towards a beautiful future for Orlando Ballet and Orlando Ballet School.
I think we all have the vision of that Building being built across the street that we will all be in. It’s almost emotional, because thank you Harriett Lake, for her love, and believing in Orlando Ballet. It makes me teary. I miss her still to this day. You know, every time I go into that bathroom at Dr. Phillips, I am reminded of how much she put her heart into all she did — it’s so Harriett. I think of our blessings, of how much she believed and loved Orlando Ballet, and Orlando Ballet School and it’s future.
Achariya: Well, thank you so much for talking to us.
Ms. Pritchard: Absolutely.