Nutcracker. No other ballet in the history of dance has become so synonymous with Christmas and American tradition. It’s hard to believe that the ballet
originally flopped when first premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in 1892. In fact, it did not truly become the phenomenon it is today until
re-staged by Willam Christensen and the San Francisco Ballet over fifty years later. Tchaikovsky’s score, originally critiqued by some as “ponderous”
and “insipid” is now employed for everything from football blooper videos to automobile commercials. I once walked out of Macy’s in defiance when the
“Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” came on over the speakers. It was my first time dancing the role, and I had broken out in a sweat when the music infiltrated
my unsuspecting psyche while innocently shopping for Holiday gifts.
It’s not that I don’t like the Nutcracker or its music. On the contrary, it has become an inherent part of my life, my career--literally part of the
fabric of my being. I am not exaggerating. To a professional ballet dancer Christmas without Nutcracker would be like Thanksgiving without Turkey...we
joke about its ubiquitousness, but deep down we are ever so slightly addicted to it. I have numerous friends who have retired from dancing and they
are still involved in the Nutcracker. If not actually performing as a guest dancer, they are teaching other children how to be toy soldiers
and Mother Ginger’s polichinelles, or at least attending as an audience member. Like an old friend, the Nutcracker never really leaves a dancer’s life
How did we become infected with such a virus? Everyone has a different story. My first experience with the Nutcracker was as a child watching Gelsey
Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov on PBS. I can remember being all alone in the living room (my brothers were not so interested), entranced by the magical
story unfolding before me. The televised version of Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker was not only technically flawless from the dancing perspective, but also
included close-ups of Clara’s enchanted facial expressions and Drosselmeyer’s ambiguous and mysterious side show. In the final scene, I was truly convinced
that Clara in fact had not been dreaming, but had journeyed to a magical place in another dimension--a place that I was dying to be a part of myself.
Little did I know that one day I would indeed be a part of Nutcracker-land, over and over and over again. ..
Colorado Ballet is participating in the Wealth Is About grant contest to win $7,000 to continue our mission of presenting exceptional quality classical
ballet and innovative dance through performances, training and education programs that are integral to the cultural life of our community.
Colorado Ballet Principal Dancer Chandra Kuykendall recently started her 20th season with the Company.
“Chandra is one of the few dancers we have who is from Colorado,” said Colorado Ballet Artistic Director Gil Boggs. “How remarkable it has been for
her to have such a successful and sustaining career right here in her hometown. It was a pleasure to promote her to Principal Dancer in 2007 and
to see her growth as an artist during the last 11 years has been extraordinary.”
According to Boggs, having a dancer spend 20 seasons with a single company is relatively rare in the ballet world and it is even more rare for a dancer
to spend the majority of her career in her hometown. “Chandra not only grew up here, she trained at Colorado Ballet Academy,” said Boggs. “Having
one of our Principal Dancers as a graduate of our Academy is a testament to the quality of our instructors and faculty.”
This season, Boggs will highlight Kuykendall as the primary Lucy in Colorado Ballet’s season opener Dracula, opening October 6 at the Ellie
Caulkins Opera House.
About Chandra Kuykendall:
Chandra Kuykendall moved with her parents to Parker, Colorado at the age of two and she started taking ballet at the age of six from a woman who taught
out of her basement near her house. When she was eight, she took classes at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance for one year, then began taking classes
at the Academy of Colorado Ballet in 1988.
“My training at the Academy was pretty ideal, we had a very small class and my teachers were very strict but also very, very loving,” said Kuykendall.
“I was able to perform in The Nutcracker from my very first year in the Academy and I did that throughout all of my training. In the upper
levels, we got to perform more with the Company and this was a really invaluable experience because it taught us what life would be like as a professional
In addition to her training at the Academy, Kuykendall also participated in summer programs with San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Kirov
Academy, and the Bolshoi Academy in Vail, CO. She graduated from the Academy of Colorado Ballet in 1997 and joined the Company that season. She
spent the 1998-1999 season with Leipzig Ballet in Leipzig, Germany and returned to Colorado Ballet in the fall of 1999.
“One of my proudest moments of my entire career was being promoted to Principal,” said Kuykendall. “This was in 2007 and it was after a performance,
Gil (Boggs) came on stage to announce it to the Company and I was completely shocked. I had no idea I was going to be promoted and it was really
one of the best moments of my career.”
According to Kuykendall, being a Principal dancer is a big responsibility. Principals not only need great technique, but they must have the ability
to connect with the audience and carry a ballet. She said that she also feels that it is equally important to set an example for the entire Company.
When asked about what audiences may not know about Kuykendall, she said that she is a mom to a seven year old son. “Sometimes it is hard balancing
motherhood and being a Principal dancer because they both take a lot of your time and love,” said Kuykendall. “But, my family is very understanding
of my career and I can separate the two and give ballet my attention when I’m here at the studio and I can give my son attention when I’m home
with him. I feel like he helps me be a better dancer and dancing helps me be a better mom.”
During her 20-season career in Denver, she has seen the ballet world in Denver change significantly. She said that when she first came to the school,
the Company was very small and there were only a few well-known companies in the city. Kuykendall said that now, Colorado Ballet has grown and
there are many more companies and opportunities to see classical and contemporary ballet in Denver. Audiences have more exposure to dance and she
said that makes them more excited to see ballet. “I feel like Colorado Ballet is such a strong company, we have strong dancers, we have a strong
staff to support us,” said Kuykendall. “I have never had any desire to leave, I’m so fulfilled artistically here. The ballets we get to dance and
the roles I’ve gotten to dance are really wonderful.”
She has danced many principal roles during her career at Colorado Ballet. Some of her favorite include Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Giselle
and Petite Mort, which the Company did during Ballet MasterWorks in February 2017. She said that was a bucket list ballet for
her, but said there are still ballets that she would like to dance.
For Kuykendall, it is impossible to sum up the last 20 years at Colorado Ballet. The Company has been her home and her coworkers have been like family.
“I have met so many amazing, amazing people, teachers, coaches, choreographers,” said Kuykendall. “My partners have all been so wonderful supporting
me on and off stage. I have met friends that I will have for a lifetime. I have so many beautiful memories inside these studios and it’s just really
hard to explain how these years have affected me and how much love I have for this place.”
Looking toward the future, she said she would like to continue doing what she is doing as long as her body holds up and she remains inspired and motivated.
Because of her love for the art, she knows that when she decides to retire, she will do something in the ballet world.
“For as long as I can remember, ballet has defined me,” said Kuykendall. “It’s been what I do, what I love, it’s who I am. I am a ballerina and as
artists we are creating art, but we are also are the art, so every day we’re growing and learning and changing and evolving and this is really
a beautiful thing to experience and I feel like the audience can see this. They can see on stage this human aspect to it, and it really connects
them to us and makes them feel like they’re really a part of the experience while they are watching the performance.”
Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano in Swan Lake by Francisco Estevez Photography