For the first time at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), it’s The Nutcracker, will experience a real life full circle enchanted ballerina’s journey. The holidays are a magical time of year, many young girls who watch The Nutcracker ballet envision themselves being a part of the experience. They follow Clara through worlds of adventure, beauty, fun and fantasy. Clara is the main character and heroine of The Nutcracker and once a year, only a few young ballet students are cast to portray the coveted position. Another plum role is the Sugar Plum Fairy, which is a principal ballerina accomplished spot. After countless classes of ballet training, only a few ballerinas will grow up and perform this role. In Alexei Ratmansky’s version of The Nutcracker, the music and choreography for the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy is performed by Clara as her older self. There is a Sugar Plum Fairy character, but it is a nondancing poised individual. Getting to dance both the principal part of Sugar Plum and the youthful Clara are extremely rare occasions and getting to do so with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and Mr. Ratmansky’s story is a once in a lifetime opportunity of luck and skill. The holder of this golden ticket and natural talent is ABT Soloist, Catherine Hurlin.

Catherine Hurlin - Photo: Jade Young.

Catherine Hurlin – Photo: Jade Young.

In an interview with Ms. Hurlin she explains, “Like every dance student starting out, I worked through the roles of angel, mouse, party children, before I finally received my first Clara role with Purchase College’s Nutcracker in New York.”  Catherine then booked the star job of Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. “I did three years with them,” she mentions. In 2010, from fourteen to fifteen years old, a picture-perfect young tiny red headed Ms. Hurlin, is chosen by Mr. Ratmansky to be first cast Clara in his rendition of the holiday timeless tradition. “I was still at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school, in level six, Alexei created this main younger character with me and three other girls Lauren Bonfiglio (currently ABT Company), Mikaela Kelly (currently Netherlands Dance Theatre Company), and Athena Petrizzo (currently a Radio City Rockette).”

Catherine Hurlin in the Don Quixote pas de deux. Photo: Erin Baiano, courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

Catherine Hurlin in the Don Quixote pas de deux. Photo: Erin Baiano, courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

Catherine articulated and quotes Alexei as follows: “Alexei’s choreography has a lot to do with acting, he is very specific on his acting moments. Creating Clara with Alexei is way different than doing choreography that is already made. It has a lot to do with… who is Clara? And what is her journey? What is she going through? I definitely saw that process in Alexei’s nutcracker compared to the other Clara’s that I have done. More detail and background story behind each thing. I remember, learning when Clara faints, which is twice, and Alexei says, ‘Faint,’ and so I fainted, a big dramatic put hand to my forehead ballet move. ‘Well, no, when you faint you drop to the floor. It has to be believable. The audience must believe.’ We had a whole rehearsal on just fainting.”

Catherine Hurlin in Giselle. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

Catherine Hurlin in “Giselle” – Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

“As a kid Nutcracker is all about the acting fun,” she describes, “Now, getting to do other roles including mature Princess Clara, Alexei’s choreography is a lot more challenging. The movements are off balance but in a good way.”  Ms. Hurlin has gotten the chance as an adult to also have performed many other roles in Mr. Ratmansky’s scenes such as snow, flowers, Sisters (French section), Spanish dance, party parent, Arabian dance, and doll. Ms. Hurlin’s studio nickname today is Hurricane, she dances with such speed, determination, and abandonment, all while having a slight frame and smoothing lyrical quality at 5’6” tall. When asked her favorite food, her inner child, like most of us, declares,” My favorite food are donuts!”  Ten years ago, Ms. Hurlin’s older Clara was played by principal artist Gillian Murphy. Although Catherine remembers early Clara vividly, she is quite excited to be filling the role as the grownup Clara at 25 years of age. Miss Hurlin declares, “Yeah, kinda a big deal for the then and now. I was the then and this year I will be the now.”  She reveals, “A magical sentimental moment for me, I would say, is during the Snow Scene, having to do the same waltz step I did as young Clara, now doing it as older Clara.”

Catherine Hurlin in "Swan Lake" - Photo: Gene Schiavone

Catherine Hurlin in “Swan Lake” – Photo: Gene Schiavone

This December of 2021, on the golden coast of southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa this dream tale will unfold. Ms. Catherine Hurlin will be performing with her prince Aran Bell and the ABT company this year for the first time on Thursday, December 16th at 7pm and Sunday, December 19th at 5:30pm – as casting stands. ABT is the Official Dance Company of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and will be highlighting 12 enchanted performances from December 10th to December 19, 2021. Ms. Hurlin’s proud mom, a former member of the American modern Paul Taylor Dance Company, will be in Orange County to watch her daughter’s full cycle performance. A once in a lifetime stage voyage that started in New York and completes on the sunny coast of California. The Nutcracker is an American holiday tradition for all ages and a ritual for many families. This season there are so many reasons to celebrate, let’s have fun at the theatre with this captivating classic.

For more ticket information, please visit The Segerstrom Center for the Arts website.

To learn more about American Ballet Theatre, please visit their website.

Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Catherine Hurlin as Clara in American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker – Photo courtesy of ABT