For Ages
8 to 12

Give the gift of ballet and magic this Christmas with an original take on The Nutcracker ballet!

Georgie has waited for this moment her whole life--to dance the part of Clara in The Nutcracker ballet. And when she finally gets the part, it's like a dream come true. . . .


Every time Georgie dances with the Nutcracker doll, she leaves the ballet studio and enters a world where everything around her-the old wooden furniture, the Christmas tree, the carefully wrapped presents-is larger than life. It's so magical, Georgie can't wait to return again and again.

Then the Nutcracker's magic seeps into the real world, putting Georgie's friend in danger. Everything is falling apart, and it's almost Christmas! Can Georgie save her friend, the Nutcracker, and most of all, herself?

An Excerpt fromNutcracked




Nutcracker audition day is the best, and the worst, day of the year.


It’s the best because for one day everything is possible. Being Clara in The Nutcracker is right there in the next room, if I can make it happen.


But it’s also the worst because I want so very badly, hope twisting with the fear of failing in my belly.


I rock back and forth on my toes as the crowd of us wait outside the big studio doors, our numbers pinned to our chests. Half of the others are girls I know, half I don’t, all in the same black leotards and pink tights. None of us look at each other, crazy with nerves.


I know I might not get anything this year. I might be too old for the child parts I had before--marshmallow child, party child, lamb--but not good enough for the real dancer parts that are the next step. I need to prove to Mrs. Cavanaugh that I can do it. That I am good enough.


If I am.


I’ve dreamed of dancing Clara since I was five years old, when Grandpa bought me my green velvet dress and took me to see the show at the Wilson Theater. He folded his big, warm hands over mine as the orchestra started up. During the intermission I leaned over and whispered, “I want to be Clara!”


Grandpa being Grandpa, he raised his eyebrows and said, “Do it, then, Georgie. Make it happen.”


But I can’t think about Grandpa right now.


I have to think about Clara, the star of the show. She has a solo dance in the first act. She comes onstage by herself at the beginning of the battle scene, her little candle the only light. I’d been so scared, when I was five, that she’d get eaten by the giant mice. But she doesn’t. She smashes the Mouse King over the head with her shoe, saves the Prince, and travels with him, through whirling snowflakes, to the Kingdom of Sweets. They ride up in the magic hot-air balloon together at the end, up above all the dancers and the audience, waving goodbye.


I want it all, every one of those moments.


We want it all, me and Kaitlyn. Best friends forever. I reach for Kaitlyn’s hand and squeeze. It’s damp with sweat. She squeezes back, hard.


“Do I look all right?” she asks.


Her number, 14, is a little crooked. My 15 probably is too. We pinned them on each other, since Mom had to go somewhere after she dropped us off. At least Kaitlyn’s bun is perfect, a fat, dark coil of hair. I’m good at doing those now. She looks pale, her freckles popping out on her white skin. But otherwise ready to go.


“You look like a Clara,” I say.


She flashes me a quick, nervous smile. “You too,” she says.


A voice calls from behind the doors, and my heartbeat skips, then pounds louder. Almost time.


Last Saturday after pointe class, the artistic director, Mrs. Cavanaugh, asked both of us if we were planning to audition for Clara. Kaitlyn said that meant she’d chosen us already. I can’t let myself believe that, not yet. I might jinx it. But the sliver of hope is there, bright and shiny: Kaitlyn and me, the two Claras, first and second casts. We would be at all the shows together, alternating performances. Our names side by side on the program. It doesn’t even matter who gets first cast, as long as it can be the two of us, together. We pinkie-swore yesterday that we wouldn’t care.


If we get it. Please, please, please.


The doors creak open and we all push through, stumbling into the wide-open space of the rehearsal studio. It’s beginning. It’s really time. The room seems too bright, after the semidarkness of the hall. At least it smells familiar: sweat and wood and the sweet sting of rosin, all bundled up together. It’s a little bit of comfort.


Mrs. Cavanaugh’s daughter Veronica lines us up in rows by number. I stand in my place--near the end of the first line, next to Kaitlyn--and watch Mrs. Cavanaugh. She’s standing by the stereo speakers. I wish she’d smile at us or give us a sign, but she doesn’t look up. She’s in her uniform: she always wears tights, a leotard, and a long, filmy ballet skirt to class and auditions, even though she’s old and doesn’t dance for real anymore. Her whole outfit today is deep purple, like a queen’s.


There are two rows of girls--all the way to number 36. Everyone wants to be Clara. My belly clenches again, a sick twist, and I try to ignore it. It doesn’t matter how many dancers are there. She asked us to come. We have a good chance.


One more girl breezes in, number 37, and my stomach drops straight to my toes.


“Ally!” Mrs. Cavanaugh calls, sunny and welcoming.


Kaitlyn and I exchange panicked glances. What is Ally Sinclair doing here? She was second-cast Clara last year . . . and she was perfect. Worse, she’s always perfect. She’s been away in Chicago, at an intensive workshop with the Joffrey Ballet. She couldn’t be auditioning for Clara again. Nobody gets to dance Clara twice. Right?


But she’s here. Mrs. Cavanaugh leads Ally to the other end of the second row, takes a step back, and nods, gnarled hand on her chin, her ring flashing. “You’ve hardly grown at all,” she says. Her smile falls off and she scans the rest of us, eyes sharp. I think they rest on me and Kaitlyn. I stay perfectly still, just in case. She claps her hands. “Let’s get started.”


She shows us the doll dance, which is ridiculously easy. A lot of us did it last year as party girls, lined up in our colorful dresses behind Clara. Step, step, hop, turn, rock a pretend doll. She has us dance it to the music in groups of ten.


I forget to feel jittery while I’m dancing that . . . until I watch Ally, in the last group. She moves so smoothly from one step to the next, her feet pointed exactly right, smiling. Her arms are always curved perfectly, her fingers graceful but natural. I wonder if I did it that well.


I don’t know if I could have. She’ll probably get Clara. There’s no reason not to give her the part. And then what happens to us? I look at Kaitlyn while we’re waiting for everyone else to be done. She’s frowning, staring at the other girls, her freckles so clear it’s like they were drawn on with marker.


When the last group is done with the doll dance, Mrs. Cavanaugh thanks us and asks us to wait while she speaks with Veronica. They mutter and whisper and mark things on their paper while my body stays still but my pulse does jetés on its own. When she steps forward, the room goes quiet, all the air sucked out of it at once. She takes a breath, looks at us over her narrow glasses, then reads off the cuts.


I’m not cut. Kaitlyn isn’t either. But a lot of girls are, way more than half. All the non-studio girls--Mrs. Cavanaugh wouldn’t choose an outside girl for Clara--and the ones who aren’t quite good enough yet. I do a quick count of how many are left: twelve. Kaitlyn and I tap our thumbs together in a mini high five that no one else can see.


But we’re not there yet.


Mrs. Cavanaugh turns to face the mirrors again and shows us Clara’s solo dance, the one she does in the party scene to celebrate getting the Nutcracker. I know that one too. The party girls practiced the Clara dance last year while the other cast rehearsed--in case both Claras got sick, or kidnapped, or enchanted by an evil fairy, and one of us had to suddenly take the part and save the show.


It could’ve happened.


This dance isn’t very hard either. Step, step, hop, with some chassés and a single pirouette and a few other small step and runs, carrying a pretend Nutcracker to show him off. We hold our hands up high, empty, and show off to the mirrors.


We dance it in three groups, and when we’re done, we have to stand and wait again. I itch to do something to keep warm and melt my twitching nerves--elevés or tendus or anything--but Mrs. Cavanaugh’s eyes fall on me and I stay still, hands folded the way she likes when we’re not dancing. Professional.


She studies me for a full two seconds while I don’t breathe at all, then turns back to Veronica. They talk and we wait. And wait.


The dream is so close to coming true, and so close to ending, at the same time.


Mrs. Cavanaugh claps her hands and steps forward, and I squeeze my fists hard, my nails digging into my palms. I want to close my eyes too, to make the moment stay in case it’s the last one before I find out it’s a no. But I can’t. I have to just stand there and let it happen.


“Numbers 14, 15, and . . . 37,” she says, her voice smoke-scratchy.


Me and Kaitlyn!


And Ally.


“Please stay. The rest, thank you so much for coming. That will be all.”


Me, Kaitlyn, and Ally, the last three. I want to scream loud enough to rattle the mirrors. I bounce on my heels and quick-look at Kaitlyn, our eyes meeting in a burst of hope. But we keep our faces blank while we wait for the others to file out. I feel bad for the girls I know. It’s awful to be cut at the end.


But I’m still here. We are still here. For now.







After everyone is gone, Mrs. Cavanaugh crosses  her arms and stands in front of us, her feet turned out. She lifts her chin. “Thank you, girls. You have all done well. We are having a difficult time deciding among the three of you.”


I make my back as straight as I can, pull in my hips. Keep my eyes on her face. It feels like my eyes are bigger than usual, the muscles around my mouth tighter. It’s a good sign if they’re not absolutely sure they want Ally. It could still be me and Kaitlyn.


Or it could be Ally and Kaitlyn. I flinch.


“We’d like you to do the Nutcracker dance again,” Mrs. Cavanaugh says. “Veronica?”


Veronica doesn’t really look like Mrs. Cavanaugh--she has long black hair she wears in a swinging ponytail, and there aren’t any lines in her face. Her eyes are the same, though. She steps forward, holding a wooden box the shape of a shoe box but bigger, scuffed and worn. Words in a language I don’t know are burnt into the lid in a dark swirl of letters. The box looks as if it’s been in a dusty attic. Or a magic wardrobe. Or in the hold of a ship, carried across the ocean.


I want to touch it and run my finger across the writing.


“This is a very special Nutcracker.” Mrs. Cavanaugh rests her hand gently on the edge of the box. She looks at each of us in turn, like she’s trying to tell us something. Ally nods, cool. Of course. She did this last year. She glances at me, and I swear she sniffs.


“He’s been handed down in my family for generations,” Mrs. Cavanaugh continues. “I want you to do the dance with him like you’re onstage. You just got him as a gift from your beloved, slightly mad uncle Drosselmeyer for Christmas, and you’re thrilled. You know he’s a magician, so the Nutcracker must be wonderful. Magical.” She studies us again. “Kaitlyn, you go first.”


She’s not using the numbers anymore. Probably since it’s only the three of us, and she knows us. I like that. Though she knows Ally best.


Veronica opens the box and holds it out as if it’s precious, like my dad with his championship football. I get a good look at it.


I shiver.


The Nutcracker has a huge head, with stringy black hair that’s starting to rub off. It looks like real hair. His--Its? No, his--teeth make me think of the wolf’s in the Red Riding Hood story, yellow and massive, his lips pulled back to show them off. The Nutcracker has a Russian-soldier outfit painted on, and a strange little crown. I can smell him from here, musty wood, and an under-smell I can’t figure out. His black eyes look like they’re watching me.


I’ve seen him before, of course, in rehearsals and onstage when Clara was holding him. But I’ve never really looked at him as anything except another prop.


Kaitlyn steps forward, awkward, her nose scrunched up. She hesitates, then quickly shoves her hands into the box and pulls the Nutcracker into her arms. I can tell she’d rather be doing anything than touching him--she doesn’t like old things or dirty things--and I hope Mrs. Cavanaugh can’t tell. It feels important how we treat him. Ally and I slide out of the way, back against the barres, and Kaitlyn goes to the starting position.


The music begins, and she takes the first steps.


She trips on the first pirouette.


Kaitlyn freezes, her cheeks blooming pink, and Mrs. Cavanaugh gestures to stop the music. “Start again,” she says kindly. “From the beginning.”


It’s quiet while Kaitlyn walks back to her place, the Nutcracker pinned under her arm. She gets in position again, then glances at me. I show her two thumbs up before her eyes drop, and the music goes.


This time she gets the steps, but something’s wrong. Every move looks wooden, stiff. Even her smile seems like it might crack or wither away. It’s not real, any of it, and you can tell. Five-year-old me would have been able to tell it wasn’t right, that she wasn’t enjoying the dance. Or getting it, feeling what it would be like to be Clara.


I wonder if she’s just too nervous. She’s not going to get Clara dancing that way. Unless I do worse, somehow.


I feel sick. I want Kaitlyn to do well. And me to do well. Not this.


Mrs. Cavanaugh lets her dance all the way through. There’s a horrible pause when the music ends, and Kaitlyn thrusts out the Nutcracker like she’s desperate for someone to take him from her.


“Georgie,” Mrs. Cavanaugh says, expressionless.


I have to do my best. I can’t mess up like Kaitlyn did. I’ve wanted this for so long.


I lift the Nutcracker from Kaitlyn, careful, and she scurries off to the side with Ally. He’s heavy, rigid. I hold him up over my head and smile, a stage smile, but really pleased too. I carry him to the corner cradled in my arms the way Clara does after Drosselmeyer gives him to her in the show. I swear the Nutcracker is watching me. The smell is stronger now, with something spicy underneath, like cinnamon sticks and cloves. It’s nice up close. I like it. He even feels a tiny bit warm.

Under the Cover