Student-run Nutcracker Makes a Splash in the Ruby

Last Friday night, it looked like tenting had come to the Ruby—not for basketball but for The Nutcracker.

Devils en Pointe, Duke’s student-run ballet company, opened the doors of the Ruby’s “Dance Cube” to audience members at 7:25pm. By 7:31pm, the studio was filled to capacity and nearly a hundred aggravated ballet fans were stuck in the hallway.

Those ballet fans were best friends, professors, and family members from out of town. Couldn’t they stand to watch inside the studio? According to the fire marshal, that wasn’t an option. So Devils en Pointe decided to present a second show at 9pm.

And that’s when tenting for The Nutcracker began.

A line of ballet dancers, arms waving elegantly
Devils en Pointe rehearsing in the Ruby. All photos by Jared Lazarus.

A Little History

Although this was Devils en Pointe’s first annual Nutcracker, it wasn’t the first time the ballet was presented on campus. Shows at Duke date back to at least 1968, when two of North Carolina’s premier arts institutions—North Carolina School of the Arts and the North Carolina Symphony—joined forces for a Nutcracker in Page Auditorium. That show was an annual event at Duke for few years before moving to Raleigh. In the 1990s, the elite Moscow Ballet brought their Great Russian Nutcracker to Duke, among 48 other U.S. locations from Arizona to New York.

But the holiday classic has not been staged at Duke since 2001, University Archive records suggest. On November 30, it fell to Devils en Pointe to break the long dry spell and start its own Nutcracker tradition. And they are doing it in their own way, not presenting the entire spectacle from start to end but instead concentrating on the most essential dances—Waltz of the Snowflakes, character dances from the Land of the Sweets, and the Sugarplum suite.

Ballet dancers in formation

Getting It Together

Rehearsals for the latest production started in October. This was familiar ground for many Devils en Pointe dancers, who have been learning various choreographies for the show since they were toddlers. But this time was different. It involved a lot more than just the dancing.

Performing in a student group meant more responsibility, especially for the members of the executive board. In addition to rehearsals, there was the grunt work: washing costumes, purchasing props, reserving rehearsal studios, and hanging flyers.

With finals, formals, and homework in the mix, it could be a bit much, according to Devils en Pointe freshman Claire Hutchinson. “Sometimes it was hard to look at this as a fun thing that we were doing with our time. It seemed more like a chore,” she said.

But when showtime came, all of that hard work paid off handsomely.

The Payoff

A line of dancers' feet, in pointe shoes, standing en pointe.

“I was kind of in awe of everyone’s talent. You could tell that Devils en Pointe practiced really hard,” said one second-show spectator, Duke freshman Christi Mela.

The dancers loved it too. For Hutchinson, the Nutcracker she helped create is “really unique because a lot of the girls come from different stylistic backgrounds. We have some Balanchine and some Russian influences because we come from different training. It’s also unique because different girls staged each dance, so they each brought their own past experience from what their old studios or professional ballet companies used to do.”

Then there was the turnout. “It definitely worked because we had to do two shows!” Hutchinson said, optimistic after Devils en Pointe’s successful first run. 

The next night, December 1, the ballet troupe brought its Nutcracker to Duke’s other tenting venue, Cameron Auditorium, performing a mashup from the show at the Duke vs. Stetson basketball game.

Next year, Devils en Pointe will do it again, but with less opening-night drama. They intend to stage their second annual Nutcracker at the more spacious Reynolds Theatre.

“I’m really excited for next year,” Hutchinson said. “We’ll have 600 seats to fill!”

Kristi Sturgill (Class of 2022) is pursuing the Policy Journalism and Media Studies certificate and is exploring interests in French, health, and public policy. She is a former student of The Washington Ballet and is a current member of Devils en Pointe. She hopes to continues her passions for ballet and journalism after she graduates from Duke.