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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’ brought Christmas magic to Langford

The annual performance of the ballet took place on Dec. 2.
Urmika Nandwani
Dazzling dances of Candy Lands, captured on Dec. 2 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Urmika Nandwani)

Each year, Vanderbilt Ballet Theatre joins ballet companies worldwide in bringing alive the magic of the Christmas season with the performance of “The Nutcracker.” Among all of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous works, the score for this ballet might be the most popular and the most far-reaching. It has carved a special place for itself in the hearts of people from all different backgrounds and varying levels of experience with classical music and ballet. Some people make it an annual family tradition to watch their local ballet studio’s rendition of the classic show. Others, knowing absolutely nothing about dance, attend the performances for the first time to support their dancer friends or family. Still others — myself included — are ex-dancers themselves, and watching the ballet reminds them of their own fond memories of performing “The Nutcracker.”

Regardless of your relationship with “The Nutcracker,” it never fails to provide a sweet, magical escape from the humdrum of everyday life. VBT’s performance took place on Dec. 2, transforming Langford Auditorium into the Land of Sweets — and taking the audience along for the ride.

Sophomore Sophia Kainz played Clara Stahlbaum, senior Gabby Wodka played Clara’s younger brother Fritz and senior Natalie Scherr played their uncle, Herr Drosselmeyer. Scherr also serves as president of VBT. She told The Hustler that she grew up performing in “The Nutcracker,” and VBT’s performance was her last performance of the ballet after nearly a decade of participation.

“I felt so at home with this organization, and I knew that I wanted to be on the executive board from the start,” Scherr said. “I love being the president and helping to create the show. I love being the person who’s making everyone else feel at home with this show now.”

The role of Herr Drosselmeyer is very different from traditional ballet roles that involve dainty tutus, pointe shoes and showy choreography. Drosselmeyer’s part would not be believable without some heavy acting: he is a complex character who is dark and mysterious but who cares deeply for Clara and her happiness. It’s a part that Scherr has never played before, but I can attest that I felt every bit of Drosselmeyer’s mystifying aura from my seat in the audience.

“At my studio growing up, we had a professional actor who played Herr Drosselmeyer every year, so it was never an option to be Drosselmeyer,” Scherr said. “This was definitely a new part for me to step into, but it was a fun way to do something that I’ve never done before. It kept it fresh, even though I’ve been performing in ‘The Nutcracker’ for almost 10 years now.”


At the Stahlbaums’ Christmas party in Act I, Drosselmeyer brings out three human-sized dolls that dance for the party guests: the Harlequin Doll, the Ballerina Doll and the Soldier Doll. 

First-year Hazel Ludwig played the Harlequin Doll. With her stiff movements that perfectly matched the quaint, playful music, she made me forget for a moment that she was really just a fellow Vanderbilt student. She shared her experience performing in VBT’s “The Nutcracker” for the first time.

“Being in ‘The Nutcracker’ was such a fun experience because I never had the opportunity to do it with my old studio at home,” Ludwig said. “I think it’s something so special that everyone does at Christmas, and it’s so much fun to have a new group of dancers to do it with at college.”

Drosselmeyer gifts Clara a nutcracker for Christmas, which she adores. Later that night, Clara returns downstairs to search for her nutcracker. However, she instead finds herself in the midst of a battle between the Rat King and the now life-size Nutcracker Soldier. She kills the Rat King with her ballet slipper. The Nutcracker Soldier removes his mask to reveal a charming Nutcracker Prince, played by junior Marius Schueller. He leads Clara into her dream world as snowflakes dance around them and snow rains down on their heads. Led by the Snow Queen and King, played by junior Ainsley Gill and sophomore Stewart Geisz, the six VBT snowflakes gracefully created a blizzard of twirling tutus.

In Act II, Clara and the prince experience the Land of Sweets, enjoying a series of short dances representing treats from all over the world. A trio of dancers took the stage as hot chocolate from Spain, grandly waving their arms and leaping across the stage with a flourish. One of the hot chocolate dancers, junior John Mountel, told The Hustler that this was his first time ever performing onstage.

“Everyone was super supportive, even though it was my first time,” Mountel said. “The high after I got offstage was one of the best moments I’ve felt in my whole life. This show was one of the best experiences ever.”

After the hot chocolate dance, there were dances representing tea from China, Marzipan candy and ribbon candy. Next, sophomores Lily Hofstetter and Stewart Geisz performed a partner dance as coffee from Arabia. Geisz seamlessly caught Hofstetter and spun her around in a series of lifts, and the pair functioned so smoothly and dignifiedly together that they seemed to move as one. Transitioning from sweets to blossoms, eight dancers serenaded Clara and the prince with the “Waltz of the Flowers.” They were led by sophomore Hadley Williamson as the Dew Drop Fairy.

Last but not least, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier performed an elegant and breathtaking pas de deux to send off Clara and her prince. This year, senior Nicole Arsenault was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy and she also served as Artistic Director for VBT. This part was extra special for Arsenault, as it was not only a major role but also marked her last performance of “The Nutcracker.”

“After 17 incredible years performing in ‘The Nutcracker,’ dancing with VBT on Saturday was a bittersweet experience,” Arsenault said. “Serving as Artistic Director allowed me to express my love for ballet, and taking on the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy for my final ‘Nutcracker’ performance was a dream come true. It was amazing to witness the audience take it all in.” 

Escaping into the Land of Sweets for a few hours this weekend was the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit and relax my mind before finals begin. Sophomore Hadley Williamson said VBT’s biggest goal this year was to really bring the story to life with new costumes, props and choreography.

“We really felt the magic on stage,” Williamson said. “We hope the audience did too.”


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About the Contributors
Isabella Bautista
Isabella Bautista, Life Copy Editor
Isabella Bautista (‘26) is double majoring in mathematics and psychology and minoring in biological sciences on the pre-medical track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Easton, Pa. When not writing for The Hustler, she can be found spending hours alone in a piano practice room, photographing Vanderbilt squirrels with her Canon camera or poring over research papers in the lab she works in. She can be reached at [email protected]  
Urmika Nandwani
Urmika Nandwani, Staff Photographer
Urmika Nandwani (‘26) is from South Jordan, Utah and studies biology and anthropology in the College of Arts and Science. When not taking pictures for The Hustler, she can be found cozied up with a good book or out and about on a run. She can be reached at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Editor
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
George Albu
George Albu, Staff Writer and Photographer
George Albu (‘27) is majoring in medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. When not working for The Hustler, he enjoys taking long walks around campus, reading or watching video essays about anything and everything online. He can be reached at [email protected].
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George Albu
6 months ago

It was such a beautiful show! 🙂