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Behind the Scenes at The Nutcracker


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Title: Behind the Scenes at The Nutcracker

Author: Kastrel

Fandom/Original: Original

Rating: Not 18+

Summary: Sandra, a young ballerina, is looking for some distraction for her nerves before opening night, and gravitates towards her mentor, Dan. But Dan is struggling with his own demons: not nerves, this time, but bad allergies.

Ok, so it's been ages since I wrote anything - I had planned something else recently but it didn't work out - and I've just finished being involved in a production of The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky's famous Christmas ballet. I wasn't a ballerina (as I have No balance), but was rather in the choir that sings in the end of the first act (Waltz of the Snowflakes). Which meant I got all the fun and only a fraction of the work. And also a touch of inspiration, which I have used below. Basically, I hope you like. I'll probably continue it if you do. Feedback is, as always, welcome.

Behind the Scenes at The Nutcracker

Opening night of the Royal Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, and everyone was nervous. Ballerinas, musicians, singers, front-of-house staff, everyone who knew and, inevitably, loved the show, was on the edge. 4 hours to curtain, 3 hours, 2…they counted them down with mixed emotions; apprehension and excitement vying for pole position.

Sandra grinned to herself as she pulled on her costume for the first act; she was one of the married couples, and could hardly wait for the chance to show what she could do. This was her first large part; she had only previously played small appearances, but with a reduced cast they were all expected to make flying costume changes, which she hated, so that they could be in more scenes, which she loved. Getting her friend Mandy to do up her zip, and returning the favour, they went down the rabbit warren set of staircases to the green room, where most of the cast was already assembled, waiting for Steve, the director, to give them their usual pep talk. Sandra noticed that Kai, who was playing the Prince, looked very nervous indeed, and sat down near him.

“You ok?” She asked sympathetically. Kai went to run a hand through his hair, distracted, but remembered just in time that it had been sprayed solid. Lowering his hand sheepishly, he nodded.

“Yeah. God, I need a fag, though.” Sandra smiled. With the new smoking laws, there were quite a few of the cast, and many more of the associated crew, who were suffering withdrawal.

“Did I hear that I was needed?” Anthony, a flamboyant and popular character, who played Sandra’s husband, minced his way over to the pair and sat down resolutely on Kai’s lap. Kai laughed and shoved him off. “What’s this? Rejection!” cried Anthony, in mock outrage, getting up off the floor and squeezing between the two to sit down. Sandra pushed him lightly.

“You’re supposed to be paying attention to me, silly, not Kai. We are married, after all.” Anthony threw up his hands and kissed her cheek in recompense. Sandra looked around at the rest of the cast, smiling at friends around the room, picking out the ones who had changed their costumes since the dress rehearsal. There was one face that she wanted to see, who she knew would calm her down. She waved to Sam, who played the magician, Dr Drosselmeyer, as he made his usual unassuming entrance in his less than unassuming bright red and gold costume. Of all the ballet dancers she had met, Sam had to be one of the strangest; he wasn’t vain, he didn’t obsess over work, he didn’t bitch about his partners, and he never seemed to want to show off. Altogether, he was not someone you would immediately place as an actor or performer at all. But he was one of the best dancers she had met. Leaving Kai and Anthony to bicker, and well aware that it was taking Kai’s mind off his nerves, which was always good, she headed over to Sam to see how he was bearing up.

“You coping?”

Sam shrugged. “I guess so. Better than some, I expect.” He glanced pointedly at Kai. Sandra rolled her eyes.

“He’ll be fine. So will you. It’ll be fantastic.” Without noticing it, her eyes drifted towards the door again. Sam noticed the look.

“Dan’s coming down later. Said he didn’t want to spend the evening with a group of hyped up young ‘uns. He was smiling when he said it though, so it’s ok.” Sandra laughed. Dan was their resident ‘old boy’; he had been in the company, in fact been in professional dancing, the longest of anyone, and he was renowned for never showing a moment’s stress. Typically, he was playing the grandfather in the Nutcracker, a part which was quite unusual. Sandra reminded herself that she was not allowed to laugh when he and Mandy, who partnered him as the grandmother, performed their small dance. It was one of Steve’s best pieces of choreography, everyone agreed: an adaptation of the classical moves to imply stiffness and limited movement, but stylised to such an extent that it was lovely, and humorous, to watch. But Sandra wasn’t interested in the choreography, or in Dan’s huge range of anecdotes; she wanted to see him because she knew he would be calm. You could never be sure with him, though. He might be in a great mood, laughing and chatting with everyone, or he could decide that it wasn’t worth the bother, and only answer in monosyllables.

As though thinking and talking about it had made it so, Dan suddenly appeared through the door. He looked…different, Sandra noticed. Almost upset. His eyes and nose were a little red, and she saw that he was holding a linen handkerchief in one hand. He was in costume; a different, but still quite similar one to the maroon smoking jacket he had had the night before at the dress rehearsal. As she watched him enter, smiling and waving to the many members of the cast who greeted him, she waited for him to spot her. She waved when he did, and gestured to the place next to her. Gratefully, Dan took it, giving her a rueful smile.

“How’re you bearing up?” He asked, and Sandra noticed his voice was thick and nasal. Putting the facts together, she made a valiant effort not to recoil. It was opening night, and illness was not an option.

“I’m ok. You haven’t caught cold, have you?” The concern in her voice didn’t quite mask the fear. Dan noticed it and laughed.

“Don’t fret, girl. It’s just allergies. They mess me around from time to time, and this had been just one of those…” he paused, raising his empty hand and rubbing at his reddened nose, “…those days, I guess.” He stopped rubbing and quickly pinched his nostrils to stifle a sneeze. He rocked forward from the force of it, maintaining complete silence, until he let out a withheld breath and sniffed.

“Bless you. Sorry, I didn’t know. What else has been going on today, then?”

“Oh, various. Firstly, this costume doesn’t fit properly, it’s too wide in the shoulders, so I’ve had to adjust it quickly. Then…” He broke off again, and held up a hand, giving Sandra a resigned look, before stifling more sneezes, this time in his handkerchief. “MPT!-aahHah-NKT!-aahheh-heh…” His faintly lined, but still notably handsome features relaxed themselves into a tortured, faraway expression as the sneeze built. Dan held the handkerchief ready, but didn’t manage to stifle it when it finally arrived. “Heh-TCHOO!” The sneeze was quiet, politely contained and quickly over, but Sandy nevertheless noticed a brief flush in Dan’s cheeks as he blew his nose, and murmured, “Sorry about that-“


“Cheers. Anyway, then I found out that someone had been into my dressing room and sprayed air freshener everywhere, which is why I haven’t been able to stop sneezing since I got here. Well, that and the perfume you gals insist on wearing. And the talc.”

“You can’t be allergic to the talc!” Sandra protested. It was used in every show for the dancers to dry their palms; safer for lifts and supports.

“It’s not an allergy to it, more a sensitivity. But it makes no difference really. Anything will make me sneeze at the moment.” As if to prove his point, the handkerchief was raised again as another sneeze crept up on him. “Heh-NTT!-aah Ugh…” Dan pinched the bridge of his nose and sniffed.

“Bless you.”

“I’d quit while you’re ahead, love, you’ve got another half an hour with me before we go on, and you don’t want to keep saying that every 10 seconds of it,” Dan muttered, ruefully grinning as he dabbed at his nose with the soft linen. Just as he finished tending to it, Sandra noticed Rachel wandering over. Rachel was their Clara, the star ballerina of the show, and she knew it. Sandra thought dispassionately that with a pout and an imperious stamp of the foot Rachel could probably get anywhere in the business. But she also knew that Rachel loved to think that she had ‘connections’ with the older traditions. And that included Dan, without a doubt. He had choreographed several short pieces for the company, created countless roles for himself, and would be running for Ballet Master the following season.

“Evening, Dan,” Rachel gushed, in her deepest, most seductive voice. Sandra brushed a stray strand of blonde hair which had escaped from her tight bun, out of her eyes and resisted the urge to glare. “Oh, hello Sandra,” Rachel conceded, before turning her large blue orbs back on Dan. “Looking forward to the big night? There’s an awful lot of tension around, I must say. I suppose you’re not nervous, are you Dan? You must have done this countless times before…” Sandra followed Rachel’s gaze to Dan as well, so that at least she didn’t have to look at the other girl’s stupid, eager face. Dan was rubbing at his nose again, obviously fighting back another allergy attack, and as Sandra took a breath, she realised why. Rachel was so completely drenched in deodorant and perfume that it seemed to hang like a cloud around her body.

Dan attempted to answer the inquiry, still holding a knuckle under his nose between phrases. The tickle in his sinuses was horribly intense, and he had no hope of holding it back for long. He only hoped he’d be able to stifle it when it undoubtedly came.

“Yes, this’ll be my-“ he nearly gave up then, but the sneeze receded a little, “sorry, my fifth Nutcracker. Never in this character, though, so that’ll be…heh…be…” Quickly, Dan raised his handkerchief, and gave in to his irritated nose, affected so badly by Rachel’s perfume. “Heh-NTT!-aahNKKT!-chuh…heh…heh-heh-ITCHOO!” The last sneeze defied all attempts at stifling, and turned aside from the girls, blowing his nose resignedly once he was sure no more were forthcoming.

“Bless you,” said Sandra, trying not to laugh. It wasn’t Dan’s plight - there was nothing funny about that – but rather Rachel’s reaction to it. She wondered if her own attempt at sympathy had been so awful. Rachel seemed to be trying not to breathe.

“You’re…you’re not ill, are you, Dan?” She asked, horror in every syllable. Sandra grinned, and Dan caught her eye. There was a twinkle in his own pale blue pair. He turned back to Rachel.

“Ill?” He replied, as if the option had not occurred to him. “Well, I suppose, I haven’t been feeling quite myself lately, and I have had the most dreadful sore throat for the past couple of days…maybe I am coming down with something.” It was enough for Rachel. With a hurried ‘good luck for the performance’, she was off, quickly engaging in a conversation with Kai who looked less than happy in being dragged out of yet another mock argument with Anthony.

Sandra waited until Rachel was out of earshot before bursting into laughter. “Was I that bad?” She asked Dan, who was blowing his nose yet again.

“No, no,” he answered congestedly, “you were much more convincing.” Quickly he pinched thumb and forefinger to his nose again, rocking forward, before letting out a long breath. Three or four seconds passed, before he repeated the action. “Haah,” he let out a slightly more forceful breath, followed quickly by another hitching one, Dan’s face relaxing once more as the need to sneeze built, his sensitive sinuses totally overwhelmed by Rachel’s perfumed aura, “…heh!...heh-heh!...heh-TCHOO!-heh-TCHISH!-heh-TCHOO!!-heh-NKKT!-aah…” Dan almost doubled up in his seat, completely incapacitated by this newest attack, handkerchief clamped over nose and mouth, sneeze after sneeze seeming to fall over each other to emerge. Slowly he straightened up, massaging his temples with his free hand. “Thad’s id,” he muttered still more thickly, “I can’d sday here.” Sandra put a sympathetic hand on his arm. It was a shock to see her friend, and, somewhat mentor, so helpless in the face of something. Usually he would be the life and soul of the green room, cracking jokes, telling stories and keeping everyone entertained so that the pre-show nerves had no time to kick in. Now, though, he just looked fed up.

“There’s a spare dressing room on the first floor. The wardrobe department keep old costumes in there, but it’s not used at the moment. Come on, we can stay up there until a few minutes before. Sam’ll fill me in on the pep talk, but it won’t be anything interesting, you know what Steve’s like. What do you say?”

Dan pinched the bridge of his still itching nose, and glanced at the clock: twenty minutes. Making up his mind, he nodded, and allowed Sandra to lead him down the many corridors and badly lit old staircases, until they came to door marked ‘Dressing Room 4’. Pushing the door open, he was met by a standard unisex dressing room, the clothes racks lined with costumes ready for future shows, or perhaps waiting to be claimed from past ones. He even recognised a few of them. Sandra flicked the extra lights on, and the traditional bare bulbs illuminated a row of mirrors and seats. Catching a glimpse of himself in one of them, Dan suppressed a laugh.

The figure laughing back at him, as he took a seat, was a man in his late fourties: dark brown hair, currently pinned back under a maroon velvet smoking cap, light blue eyes, currently in a high state of redness, and a well-shaped, aquiline nose in the same condition. He was also wearing considerable stage make-up, which gave his skin an orange tinge, except around his nose, where it had almost completely been worn away by the attentions of his handkerchief. All in all, Dan decided, a trip back to his own room to reapply it would probably be not be needed. Since the staff had sprayed fragrant air freshener everywhere in it the make-up would be gone again before anyone had the chance to enjoy it.

“Well, this is nice,” he remarked to Sandra, as he propped his feet up on the next chair along. He gave her a sidelong glance. “Nervous?” She nodded, her unusual quietness and many glances at the clock had told him that much. “No need,” he continued breezily, “done this dozens of times. You’ll be fine.”

Sandra nodded, a little comforted. “Why don’t you ever get nervous?” She asked, but Dan didn’t answer. Once again he was forced to raise his handkerchief and stifle an approaching sneeze.

Heh’NKKT!-aah, oh sorry, love-“

“Bless you.”

“What did I say about that? You’ll be at it all night if you carry on.”

Sandra shrugged. “Force of habit. I was taught it was polite. Probably,” she added, wondering if Dan would take what she said the wrong way, “why you sneeze like that.”

He gave her a shrewd look. “Like what, exactly?”

“Well, holding them all in. It’s not healthy, you know.” In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought.

“Thank you, doctor,” Dan replied, but then smiled at her. Sandra relaxed as he carried on. “You’re right, though, it’s the same. I was taught it was polite. It’s a tricky habit to break. Especially when you’ve had so much practise,” he finished with a sniff. “Never mind, hopefully it’ll calm down a bit up here. To get back to where we were, I did all my getting nervous twenty, thirty years ago. Got it all out of my system when I was your age. No point now. What’s the worst that can happen? I can fall flat on my face, and everyone can laugh. Hardly likely, and even if I did, no one would remember in a week’s time. They’d remember all the other flawless dances and costumes and music. True, I might get bawled out by the director, although even that’s less likely these days, seeing as I’ve known Steve for years, but you get over it and you move on. No point dwelling on your mistakes, girl, not when there’re so many successes to think about. But you can’t expect to get it all right every time. Or you won’t know what to do when you do get it wrong, and that’s the biggest…the biggest problem.” More sneezes were building, and Dan turned aside, handkerchief at the ready. It took longer than before, the itch growing and receding, like a wave at the seaside, and Dan was aware of how stupid he must appear.

“Heeh…heh-heh…hehHeh-TCHOO! Heh-TCHUH! Heeh…heh...heh-ISSHOO!!” The sneezes built in force and volume, but he made no attempt to stifle them. Sandra wondered if he’d given up the lost battle, or taken her advice. Either way, she thought about the advice he’d just given her. It was something of a comfort to know that he hadn’t always been nerveless, even if a stage-frightened Dan was something she couldn’t quite picture. Quickly, Dan blew his nose, and checked his make-up to see if he’d erased it completely, but not quite.

“Right, we’d better get down there. Eight minutes, I make it.” Sandra nodded, and they returned to the green room. The big moment had almost arrived.

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This was absolutely Gorgeous. I loved the characters and the connections and the absolute realism of the whole situation.

The part with Rachel was brilliantly funny. and the ending... just perfect. *sighs and was going to "mem"- then remembered that I'm not on LJ- so I'll stick to saving it*

Thank you so much for the holiday gift to us all.

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Excellent scenario and wonderful writing :) I hope he didn't end up sneezing on stage!

Well done

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This was wonderful! You're a great writer!

I'm studying acting at school and I love sneezefics that take place in the theater!!!!

Very awesome. :)

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*Tries to wipe big stupid grin off face* :lol: Glad you liked!! TMA, I'm really pleased you liked the situation, and the humour (Luckily I never found out if any of our dancers were like Rachel, but they never deigned to speak to us). I've loads of experience of the stress before performances, and I thought it would be fun to write about how people coped (or not).

Dusty, I'll guess you'll just have to wait and see :) - that's the plan for part 2.

Crazy_cat_girl, I'm glad someone shares the love of theatre-related sneezing. I've never really come across one before, but I've always loved the idea. You can get so much of the care-taking aspect in a theatre; it's such a great support group.

Aaanyway, thanks for your lovely feedback!! :blushing:

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Omg, I love this SO MUCH! :D The characters, the whole scenario... Awesome writing!

Thank you for sharing!

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This is SO fantastic! I am a complete sucker for stories like this, and oh my god, you've done a gorgeous job. Please do continue, it's so elegantly written and the dialogue is great. The whole thing is beautiful and lovely and Dan is sexy. And the sneezing...mmm mmm :cold:

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:laugh: GAH.....This is SO HOT! My brain has been made incoherent by this...this....tasty story. Such a variety of sneezes and stifles...and the cute bit with Rachel running for the hills at the mention of a cold. :D Hee. Perhaps I'll be able to read more about Dan's allergies in the future? *hint hint* Or at least some more of your writing. Thanks for sharing.
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  • 9 months later...
  • 1 month later...

Love it! I just saw The Nutcracker for the first time and just imagining those beautiful dancers, overcome... well, you get my point. You have such a lovely writing style, it is so flowing. Please continue or write another story!

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