The Youngest Stars of Nutcracker

Nutcracker’s brave heroine Clara may be the production’s best-known role for a younger performer, but every year over 150 children step onto the War Memorial Opera House stage for 31 performances, playing a crucial role in bringing the world of Nutcracker to life.

You’ll see these talented young performers onstage in Nutcracker in roles including:

  • San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

    Boys and girls in the party scene at Clara’s House (Act I)

  • San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

    Foot soldiers helping Clara to defeat the villainous Mouse King (Act I)

  • San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

    ...and the Mouse King’s rodent henchmen (Act I)

  • San Francisco Ballet students in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

    Little ladybugs heralding the arrival of the famous “Waltz of the Flowers” (Act II)

  • San Francisco Ballet students in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

    And clowns dancing with Mother Ginger’ bear (Act II)

Journey To Nutcracker

All of the children you see on the Nutcracker stage are students at SF Ballet School--the oldest ballet school in the United States, with a world-class reputation.

San Francisco Ballet School students in class (© Erik Tomasson)

The School occupies the same building as SF Ballet itself, meaning these young dancers—from pre-ballet students as young as six to teenaged Trainees—get to walk the same corridors and often even dance in the same studios as our Company dancers. What’s more, some of these students may well become SF Ballet dancers themselves one day; over half of current Company members—40 in total this year—are SFB School alumni!

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

Every year Level 1-6 School students line up to audition for the chance to perform in Nutcracker, and are hand-picked to participate by the production’s Artistic staff. The role of Clara is typically cast from the School’s upper levels, calling for a young performer with the stamina to appear onstage for most of Nutcracker.

The role of Clara is played by a School student in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

For 13 year-old Catherine, who performed the role of Clara last year, performing alongside SF Ballet’s Company dancers was the real thrill. “Dancing with professional dancers is the most amazing thing you can possibly imagine if you’re in dance,” she says. “They’re so graceful and beautiful and that’s your goal as a dancer—to be like them. If you really feel the connection with it, you know you want to do that for the rest of your life.”

“There’s all these amazing dancers around you, and so many people in the audience,” says 11 year-old Atticus, who has performed as Clara’s mischievous brother Fritz. He started dancing after being inspired by a visit that SF Ballet Center for Dance Education made to his school. “You’re there to give them a great show—and have fun!”

Behind The Scenes: Club Nut

Photo: Kat Wade/The San Francisco Chronicle [link to]

To keep our youngest stars safe, warm, fed and entertained during the production’s run, SF Ballet has a secret weapon: “Club Nut.” Organized and staffed by School parents and volunteers from SF Ballet’s BRAVO organization, “Club Nut” has provided a place for the children of Nutcracker to rest, eat, and play between their appearances in the production’s matinee and evening performances since 1993.

Photo: Kat Wade/ The San Francisco Chronicle [link to]

“Club Nut” makes its home in one of the Ballet’s spacious dance studios, which is decorated for the holidays with twinkling pine garlands wound around its barres. Here, our youngest dancers find tables piled high with DIY supplies for that day’s specially-devised craft projects, a buffet to keep them well-fed, movies to watch, and games to play. A hardworking team of volunteers are on hand to shuttle children between the Ballet building and the Opera House, serve them food, and help them keep busy creating holiday stockings, ornaments, and cards.

Photo: Kat Wade/ The San Francisco Chronicle [link to]

As performance time approaches, children crowd in front of the studio’s huge mirrors to run through last-minute steps. Before long, they’re corralled by “Club Nut” volunteers and brought over to the Opera House, ready for their costumes and, finally, an audience of 3,000.

Family In The Wings

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

It’s not hard for most to imagine the sheer magic of being a young dancer on the Nutcracker stage—but what’s it like for the families of those children involved in the annual whirlwind?

As the mom of two SF Ballet students involved in the production, Jeanette Chudnow knows about the dedication required to be part of the “Nutcracker family.”  “Being a parent involved in Nutcracker is like going to Disneyland! It’s magical,” says Jeanette, who drives her children an hour and a half each way from Napa, six days a week, to attend the SF Ballet School. "Of course it's a crazy time, but so rewarding.”

Not only does Jeanette work as a volunteer for “Club Nut” (see above), but also as a chaperone for Nutcracker’s children backstage at the Opera House, which provides a unique perspective—literally—from the wings. “Watching these kids transform into their characters,” she says, “I love their nerves and excitement backstage. You can almost hear the squeals of anticipation.”

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)

Although she admits that she “occasionally hears that Tchaikovsky music in my dreams," Jeanette says that “as a parent, it’s a big honor to be involved, and very humbling. The first time my son came offstage after playing Fritz, I just cried with pride.” And what about when it's all over, after that last Nutcracker performance? "We relive it by talking about it; what we loved most, what might come next year. And we do so much laundry."

Read more about:

Club Nut (

Volunteering with SF Ballet

The SF Ballet School


Is your child a young dancer? Tell us in the comments!

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