If you're six-years-old, four feet tall, and about to dance
with a giant mouse that's three feet taller than you are, it might
be a little intimidating. Sacramento Ballet co-artistic director
Ron Cunningham understands.
CUNNINGHAM: "And that can be pretty terrifying for a
child, especially since they have great imaginations. You know, if
it's a mouse, it's a mouse. It's a big one!"
So Cunningham developed a four-point plan for getting his
Nutcracker kids over the big mouse fear factor. Step one: introduce
the idea on family terms.
CUNNINGHAM: "The first rehearsal, I teach the kids what
they're going to do. And then I bring in their parents into the
room, and I have them be the mice. Not in costume, but just do the
simple thing that the mice do with the children. The kids think
it's a blast. They think it's so much fun to have their parents
have their parents chase them around as a mouse.
And then my second rehearsal, I have my company men do it,
with no mouse outfit, and they still think it's really
At their third rehearsal, I have the men do it, in my
company. But now they wear their mouse heads. But they still have a
human body. So the kids can see that they're not real
And then by the fourth time, the kids are ready, we have
the full mouse outfit on, and the children - most of the time
-- are fine."
Still, even some of the eight- and nine-year-old girls in this
year's production say the giant rodents are a little
JEFF HUDSON: "Is it a little bit intimidating to come face
to face to a seven foot mouse?"
GIRLS: "Because they're very tall… Big gnarly
HUDSON: "What's it like to be picked up by a seven
GIRLS: "Fun! It's fun. Sweaty! Sweaty inside."
STEWART: "Well, the body is just this huge cloth
That's dancer Alex Stewart. He wears one of the big furry
mouse costumes and says he does work up quite a sweat when he
STEWART: "I always try to wear my bike shorts, and nothing
else if I can get away with it, because it's so
Stewart grew up in the Capital Region -- he was in Sac
Ballet's Nutcracker as a 12-year-old - well beyond the fear of big,
furry mice. Instead, he was excited by the prospect of appearing
with the professional dancers he admired so much. Ultimately
Alex chose dance for his own career.
STEWART: "It is a dream come true. I looked up to the
dancers so much as a kid."
Now a new crop of Nutcracker kids will be looking up at him in
his giant mouse suit as he dances with them across the stage. And
what do they think?
GIRLS: "It's very nervous …. Scary … It's really fun,
though. Really fun, too."
Who knows, one of these girls might become the Sacramento
Ballet's star ballerina in another ten or 12 years.