Outwit, outplay, outnut. In this guest post, English National Ballet corps member Jeanette Kakareka shares her tips on surviving a gruelling 48-show season of Nutcracker during the holidays.
This season marks the most Nutcrackers I have ever done in one run with English National Ballet, so the number of shows is probably shocking. This season we performed 48 shows, not including 2 dress rehearsals. I know not everyone does a large number of Nutcrackers, but many major ballet companies around the world do perform 30+ so I do believe it is important to be prepared if you find yourself in a similar situation. It’s not easy, and I think it’s important to respect professional dancers for putting on the show day in and day out. Most days for us at ENB are double shows; this season there were 18 double show days. Some weeks we have performed 10 shows from Monday through Saturday. Rough, I know. I will try to share with you what it is like and how I’ve learned to “survive”.
Proper hydration is extremely important, but it’s also easy for me to get lazy and not be taking in enough liquids. That’s why I keep coconut waters on hand for tougher days, particularly double show days where I’m doing a lot of snow and flowers. I’m not a doctor or a nutrition expert, but in my personal experience, coconut water aids my recovery even better than only drinking plain water.
It’s not always easy, especially following a show where your adrenaline was really going, but winding down in time to get a good night’s sleep is important. Sleep is one of the things you need to absolutely prioritise and respect during a time of heavy work load. Turn the lights down, ease off Instagram, put your legs up to drain, and get an herbal tea. Sweet dreams.
I am also a big believer of power naps between shows. If I go under my dressing room table to rest my head and elevate my feet, I can kill two birds with one stone. I usually don’t sleep more than 20 minutes naturally and wake up feeling a little more refreshed. I then like to drink a black coffee afterwards.
Professional dancers all know the positives of nutritionally balanced meals, but you can’t let yourself forget to put in the effort of taking care of your body even when you are tired. Ensuring that you get enough protein, carbs, veggies, and fruits is so important for recovery, stamina, and overall wellbeing. On show days I like to eat a good porridge breakfast, lunch before show one, dinner before show two, and another small dinner at the end of the day. Spreading out my meals helps me stay satisfied throughout the day without feeling overly full and sick when dancing the hard stuff.
When I’m needing a nibble between Acts or if I wasn’t quite satisfied with my meal, I like to have on-hand both savoury and sweet snacks. Dried peas, nuts, and pretzels are a good go-to, but I also get a sweet tooth when I’m overly exhausted so I stash chocolate or sometimes buy myself a pastry. Side note, this is probably 100% the wrong time to try and kick your sugar habit.
Pointe shoe sewing is annoying and we all know it. So is breaking them in. So is remembering to glue them. I know, but you have to fight procrastinating and do what you’ll thank yourself for in the long run. I make sure to keep pointe shoes at the ready to prep whenever I’m having a slower Act, and try to remember to sew them regularly. Don’t forget to take the extra minutes to glue them after shows if you need to. Some coworkers are even forward thinking enough to get a head start on sewing a bunch of pairs before Nutcracker season starts. Unfortunately, I am never that person.
Speaking of shoes, I think it’s really important to think through which roles need what kind of pointe shoes and perfect that. For example, for snow, I need shoes that have gotten quiet and a little soft for all the jetes, but not too soft for bourres. For lead and corps flowers, I can literally where a (nearly) brand new pair. I suggest trying to avoid wearing the same pair for the whole ballet because then they don’t have a chance to air out–keeping shoes on rotation sustains them best.
(Got that Pitch Perfect reference?) I am literally the last person who has room to say this, but don’t procrastinate–sign up for physio and massage! Listening to your body and taking care of it is important. Use the services the company provides you, roll out on that foam roller, and use the spiky ball. What’s not great for shins? Snowflakes. What is great from shins? Softballs.
Some days I get on with the day fine. Other days, I crawl out of bed and can hardly spare a smile. That is ok! When we’re exhausted, we can’t expect ourselves to be superhuman and not feel emotions or feel sick or be in pain. It’s normal to be extra emotional when we’re over worked, so don’t beat yourself up about it. All you can do is look out for yourself and be mindful of others. Keep up with the people who love you and reach out if you need it. Go out of your way to have a laugh with your colleagues and treat yourself to cake. You deserve it!
Follow Jeanette on:
Header image: Laurent Liotardo