BWW Interviews: Houston Ballet's Allison Miller Talks THE NUTCRACKER
Houston Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER is almost a Houston institution. Clara goes to bed angry at her brother for teasing and awakes in a wonderous winterland. I talk to Houston Ballet soloist Allison Miller, a dancer whose sparkling personality matches her sparkling performance. I caught her right before she bounced, bubbled, and bound her way to rehearsal for the production. At least that's how I pictured her.
BWW: Tell me about the roles you're playing this season.
Allison Miller: I have a lot of roles and many of them I've done all nine seasons. Let's see - I perform the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen, Clara, the grandmother, and a couple of divertissements in the second act: Arabian and a snowflake, one of 18.
BWW: How did you prepare for your many, many roles?
Allison Miller: Luckily, a lot of them I have been doing for many years, so the music goes on and I just know what to do. By now it's fun to come back and try to pretend to be little Clara and make it like the first time every single performance.
BWW: Is there any role that you are particularly excited to perform?
Allison Miller: My favorite role in THE NUTCRACKER is the Snow Queen. It's just really tough. It's always a challenge. It makes me kind of nervous to think about it. [Laughs] I do the Snow Queen on opening night this year. I also did last year, so I shouldn't be this nervous. But I still am. It's a really hard part. [Laughs]
I'm also very excited about the Sugar Plum Fairy. Last year I debuted and get to do it again. I'll be a little less nervous this year.
BWW: I would imagine it's nerve-wracking. Everyone knows the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." I can hear the music in my head right now.
Allison Miller: They're all waiting for it! Everyone is just waiting for the Sugar Plum Fairy to come out. There is a little bit of pressure. But at the same time, it's just a lot of fun. All the dancers are supporting you in the wings, and all the little kids out front are excited about all the sparkle and the beautiful music. THE NUTCRACKER is a great environment for a hard role, because there's just so much support. Everyone is excited and having a good time.
BWW: How have you managed to keep things fresh?
Allison Miller: It's tough sometimes. When you're a snowflake - a snowflake in almost every single show - it's really hard to approach that without saying, "Gosh, my toe just hurts, and if [only] I didn't have to be a snowflake right now!" [I Laugh] I've found it's easier to approach it with an, "Ah, this is magical, and I'm part of this magic and creating this atmosphere." I try to do snowflakes like that everytime. At least you start the dance like that. Then you get tired and you're trying to breathe. [I Laugh]
I just try to come into it every time for the first time, because it's the first time someone has seen the show. And there are so many people in the audience that, even when you're one of 18 snowflakes, someone is still looking at you. I try to keep those things in mind.
BWW: You're also introducing quite a few to ballet.
Allison Miller: There are so many families! I think THE NUTCRACKER is a great first ballet for kids. Oh my gosh, they love it. We get a chance to meet so many of them at special events and the green room after the show. It's special to see the reaction.
BWW: Do you have a favorite version of THE NUTCRACKER?
Allison Miller: I grew up going to see Miami City Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER. I love everything [George] Balanchine. And Miami City Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER is the first one I got to participate in - I was one of the angels in act two. So I'm partial to the party scene. Also, in [George Balanchine's] version, I love that the Sugar Plum Fairy dances in the opening, which I think is really interesting, then she comes back later to dance the pas de deux. There are a lot of interesting versions out there, but that's one that I really like.
Now that I've done Ben Stevenson's version this many years, I just love it. [Laughs]
BWW: In a season brimming with holiday entertainment, why is Houston Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER a must see?
Allison Miller: It's a very stressful season for everyone - no matter who you are. But when you go to THE NUTCRACKER, whether it's a family tradition or it's your first time going, it just takes you to a magical place and away from the hustle and bustle for a couple of hours.
Photos courtesy of Houston Ballet