Kansas City Ballet School Students (and sisters) Scarlett (age 13) and Henley Spaulding (age 9) reminisce on their time dancing in Devon Carney’s The Nutcracker together.
Immediately after seeing her first Nutcracker performance, Scarlett Spaulding (who was 7 years old at the time) dreamt she would dance the iconic role of “Clara”. Fast forward six years, Scarlett’s dream came true — with her little sister Henley performing the Bunny beside her.
“I love performing with (Henley) because I get to hug her on stage. It’s one of the best feelings,” Scarlett says.
It’s a Sister Thing
One of the perks of being sisters is getting ready at home together. Henley often watches her big sister get ready and even lets Scarlett do her makeup (sometimes).
“The best part about doing shows with your little sister is that you can practice together anywhere. It’s like we can teleport to the stage wherever we are,” Scarlett says. “I do try not to smile because we hug in the biggest most dramatic scenes, so it would be kind of awkward if we smiled… but it’s still so amazing!”
Henley loves dancing as the Bunny because she can watch her sister perform right beside her. Last year, she danced as one of the baby mice, so she missed out on seeing the iconic battle scene.
“It’s much more exciting this year!” Henley says. “Now I can have more memories with the Company dancers, soldiers, and the big mice. I just love performing with my big sister. It’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced. I want to be Clara when I’m older!”
It’s such a special moment for the sisters to perform in roles that interact closely together. School Director Grace Holmes says students do perform with their siblings often, but not usually in roles that overlap like Clara and Bunny. Usually siblings will be in the same show, but most often are in roles that don’t interact much.
Who is Clara anyways?
“Whenever I think of Clara, I think of blue,” Scarlett says. “She’s a very elegant character that’s full of wonder and curiosity.”
The Nutcracker ballet is an adaption of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a short story by E.T.A. Hoffman. Hoffman’s Marie is very similar to the ballet’s Clara role, both tied by the power of magic.
Devon Carney’s production of The Nutcracker had its world premiere in 2015. The Nutcracker Design Team began assembling all the moving parts in early 2014.
It took four studios to build out the sets and 27 costume studios from all over the United States, including Kansas City to put together all the beautiful costumes you see on stage.
“In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that I could assemble some of the greatest design talents the ballet world has to offer to create this amazing new show. Each is truly known for being one of, if not THE, best in the industry,” Artistic Director Devon Carney said in 2015. “The joy of seeing the holidays through a child’s eyes will permeate throughout. I promise audiences a new and joyous holiday classic.”
Clara’s history in Kansas City
Although other companies may opt to have a more advanced dancer in the role of Clara, Devon always believed that the role should be as genuine and authentic as possible. In the original story by E.T.A. Hoffman, the young protagonist was only seven years old.
“It was important to keep that aspect of the story. This is a story of seeing the wonderment of the holidays through a child’s eyes and therefore that youthful aspect was essential in the one who plays the role of Clara,” Devon says.
He envisioned from the beginning that the young dancer who has the opportunity to perform Clara should be one of an obvious optimistic disposition.
“They need to have excellent acting skills beyond their young years of life, must be able to express a broad range of emotional context, and lastly, they need to possess a good understanding of the technical skills required of the role which are somewhat more advanced than their years of dance studies,” Devon said.
Scarlett has all the aspects that Devon was looking for in the role — as do the other two young dancers (Samantha Lopez-Duarte and Kinley Buxton), he says. Grace says although casting is up to Devon, the Kansas City Ballet School tend to advocate for students who have great acting skills, solid technique, quality movement, and great behavior/dedication.
Young dancers aspire to be Clara because the role is achievable and relatable to young girls in the 11-13 age range. The story is told from her perspective, allowing the audience to imagine how they’d respond if they were in her shoes — naturally, young ballerinas wonder the same and train hard to dance in her shoes.
“The first time I put on Clara’s costume was the best moment of my entire life,” Scarlett gushes. “The dresses are so gorgeous and it’s so fun to see what they look like on stage versus like when you look at yourself in the mirror. The night gown is so comfy, especially right after a party scene. The gown for the second act is literally gorgeous and so sparkly. I feel like I’m like a little pretty princess!”
There have been 21 Claras since the first run of Devon’s Nutcracker. A single show typically includes three students cast for the role.
FUN FACT: Ever since 2007, each Clara is given a few pages to fill out every year, adding their own experiences into the archives. It gives the students a chance to reflect on the experience as a whole, and to share that experience in a concrete format. Since COVID, the Claras have not always done their sheets for the scrapbook, but Grace believes the upcoming years will find students more engaged and willing to share their experience.
Company dancers and their words of wisdom
Kansas City Ballet School begins Nutcracker rehearsals in mid-October. Scarlett says she felt like this year the students learned their roles especially fast.
“I was expecting it to be way longer because the show is so long, but once you piece everything you’re taught together, it all came together pretty quick,” Scarlett says.
She learned that the Company works much differently compared to her peers.
“The Company works together, almost like they all know how each other moves and how to work with each other. It was cool to see how they correct each other versus having a teacher give them all the corrections,” Scarlett says. “I love getting corrections, so I loved that the company members would correct me too.”
At the end of the day, ballet is about community and having fun. The girls agreed that their favorite part of performing in The Nutcracker was sharing the special moments with their classmates backstage.
“My favorite memories so far have been all the backstage moments and getting ready with all my friends in the dressing rooms and jamming out to all the music! I also love shaking everything out right before going on stage,” Scarlett says.
Photography by: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios. Scarlett (age 13) and Henley Spaulding (age 9) dancing in Devon Carney’s The Nutcracker with KCB Company Dancer Elliott Rogers.