Thursday, December 8, 2011

Talking Nutcracker with Joffrey Dancer Derrick Agnoletti

Join us as we sit down with Derrick Agnoletti, a Joffrey dancer that has been with us for almost ten years, as we discuss the upcoming Nutcracker performances (Dec. 9-27). Visit for more information and tickets.

Why is the Joffrey Nutcracker special to you?

Joffrey's Nutcracker is very special to me because I not only enjoy dancing it, but I enjoy all of its elements, from the characters that exist in this particular version to the quick speeds of the choreography. I think of all the Nutcrackers that I have participated in and seen, this one has the most dancing for both the men and women. It uses the whole company. Everyone's roles color the ballet to make a stunning picture. It is also very special to me because when I first came to the Joffrey as an apprentice, I got to see amazing artistry and dancing demonstrated through this ballet, it was so inspiring.

What’s your favorite role in The Nutcracker?

I have to say, I always love dancing Fritz/Snow Prince because I was a wild little kid, but the role that sticks out the most to me as really fun is playing one of the head butlers in the party scene. You are completely responsible for making the party scene work logistically as well as developing a character. I have fun, interchanging, personalities with this character. Some nights I’m very fussy and annoyed with all the guests and their demands and other nights the other butler and I pretend to encourage Fritz and his naughty behavior. I like the hustle of it, especially if I go into snow or battle after.

Do you have any funny stories/favorite memories of performing The Nutcracker?

Yes...During my very first week of shows I was put into the role of The Butler. The Butler is part of the magic when revealing the Nutcracker doll. I can't give away how it happens, but I can say that it’s a prop I am responsible for and I couldn't find it because it was not pre-set. I thought I was going to have a heart attack! Luckily, the Drosselmeyer that was on that night knew exactly where it was and ran to get it. Company members were making me freak out even more on stage by saying "'oooooooooooo, you are so fired"... I really thought I was.

What do you do for the holidays?

In the past years, we usually dance Christmas Eve and then have the next day off for Christmas. I love Christmas so it’s hard to be away from my big Italian family. This time of the year always reminds me of the fun that my brothers and I have had throughout our childhood years. However, the dancers usually get together on Christmas day at someone's house for a big feast. A few years in a row Joffrey dancer Valerie Robin has held it at her and her husband’s house. She is an incredible cook. We all play games, eat and relax together. It’s sort of like family away from family.

Why should our readers come to see The Nutcracker?

Joffrey's Nutcracker is truly the best. I can understand when people say "Oh, I've seen it already," but in all honesty each year it changes. There are a lot of new dancers dancing fantastic new roles. The company has a youthful vibrant look to it that will be refreshing for all to see. I feel that it’s important to come every year because you will always see something new. Especially with the Chicago Sinfonietta's wonderful live music.

Is touring Nutcracker any different than performing it in the city?

Sometimes. The stages are all different sizes and shapes. Sometimes the set is too big or too small for the stage. The children's cast changes in each city also.

What is your earliest memory of The Nutcracker?

Probably seeing the New York City Ballet's version live for the first time. I remember thinking it was so cool that it was actually snowing on stage (at the time I wasn't dancing so I thought it was real)!

As a dancer, what is most challenging about performing The Nutcracker?

Nutcracker is challenging for the whole company. I still struggle getting the technicalities of the steps as well as getting the musicality down correctly. The snow scene, choreographed by Gerald Arpino, is very fast with a lot of petite allegro jumps, and yet you still have to hold your spacing and do the port de bras in the Arpino style (it’s a little more angular and sharper than classical ballet port de bras). I have been dancing it for many years but it is still something I have to work at to keep clean. I also think staying in good physical health is one of the biggest concerns. We do a lot of shows and alternate a lot of parts so you have to stay in top shape. I make sure to take class (keeps my stamina up and my technique building) and go to physical therapy (they give us exercises to build strength and stay uninjured).

For all the behind-the-scenes magic, be sure to follow the Joffrey on our official blog at

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