Company dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson shares some of her favorite Nutcracker memories surrounding the themes of acceptance and love.
Nutcracker is the traditional holiday classic that sparks feelings of nostalgia during the “most wonderful time of the year.” With “images of sugarplums dancing through their heads,” thousands of families all over the world flock to the theater to witness the magic brought only by seeing Clara get whisked away to The Land of the Sweets. The Washington Ballet’s unique version (one that incorporates characters from our nation’s history) is one that, for anyone who has seen it, brings these feelings along with some of a different sort…those of patriotism and pride. Through the years, The Nutcracker season has also brought about feelings of my own: ACCEPTANCE and LOVE.
My first year with The Washington Ballet brought about many new experiences, but one of the most memorable was my first Nutcracker season with the company. Septime Webre’s version of the ballet (set in Georgetown) was a whimsical adaptation like no other I had ever seen, and with that came a steep learning curve. As we began rehearsals in mid-October for an opening the day after Thanksgiving, I was shocked to find out that I had 11 parts to learn including a party parent, Snow corps, Snow Queen, Spanish, Anacostian, and Dew Drop. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed!
The rehearsal process went on and I was grateful for the help of some of my fellow dancers, all of whom had joined the company before me. As they guided me through some of the tricky “Septime-isms,” I felt like I really became part of the family. Some of the roles I have come to favor are Dew Drop (for its whimsy) and Anacostian (for its representation of indigenous people and challenging partnering). However, one of the best moments during my time at TWB was when I found out I would be performing the Sugar Plum Fairy. This was my debut in a principal role for the company. The first time I performed it my dance family cheered me on right from the wings.
Since then there have been so many memories to cherish during the Nutcracker season: decorating the dressing room with Christmas lights (shout out to Olivia), playing Secret Santa to bring joy to fellow dancers while “stuck” in the theater, finding any place to take a nap (including under the sink in the dressing room), doing my make-up with only the flashlight of my iPhone during a power outage, trying to learn the opposite side of the corps (while performing it), and the list goes on. However, if I had to pick a favorite it would be the day that my, now husband, proposed to me on stage between shows!
On December 23, 2016 (which happened to be my birthday) we prepared to reveal Secret Santas. I waited impatiently for everyone to come to the stage. As I looked around there was an unusual amount of commotion. People who didn’t participate in Secret Santa were lingering about. Several tried (with fail) to be incognito with their phones prepped and ready, but for what? I was hoping that there was no big surprise for my birthday because everyone knows I hate surprises.
As people slowly made their way to the stage I was relieved that I could finally find out who had given me such terrible gifts for the past month. I mean who gives somebody a half-eaten banana?! Soon we started the process and it was finally my turn to guess. After three failed attempts everyone told me that it was my boyfriend, Sam. But, he had not made it to the stage. Where was he?
As I opened my final gift (a mug that read “Happy Wife, Happy Life”) from the missing deceiver, I heard music begin to play. “They never use Etta James for soundcheck…this is a pleasant surprise,” I thought. Little did I know it was a setup! As I heard gasps of awe and saw my fellow ladies clutch their imaginary pearls, I turned to see the curtain rising and Sam on one knee! As he popped the question, I said yes and the rest is history.