Houston Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2013 – The Children

by Bernadette Verzosa
Photos by Amitava Sarkar
LEFT: Dancer Rhodes Elliot and Artists of Houston Ballet, RIGHT: Dancer Ellie Eikenburg
ELLIE2Ten-year-old Ellie Eikenburg is quite a party girl. Five nights a week this holiday season, she whips her hair in a bun, tucks her toes in slippers, and embodies a party girl.

Ellie, a blue-eyed, book-loving, tree-climbing, frog-catching fourth grader with indefatigable spirit, is a ballerina. She is one of the graceful young dancers playing party children in the Houston Ballet’s 2013 production of The Nutcracker. “I promised myself when I was a toddler that I would be in The Nutcracker, and I try to keep all my promises, and I did it,” she says. “I first saw The Nutcracker with my grandma. My grandma has always been taking me to ballets. It’s just me and my grandma time so it’s just always been fun for me.”

This is Ellie’s second year performing in the beloved ballet. She has been cast in the same role this year – she is the party girl who enters the Christmas Eve celebration scene carrying a present. “My favorite part last year was the beginning. It wasn’t being on stage. It was just before that. It was waiting to get on stage when my friends and I got all excited, we were talking, we were trying to remember our cues,” she says. “Being with friends is the fun part, sharing the dressing room with the rats and the clowns and the other party children.”

Ellie’s also eager to share insider show business buzz, “Once last year, a girl lost her tooth on stage. Of course, they couldn’t just stop the ballet,” she says. “Thank gosh it was the last part when it fell out of her mouth so she held on to it until we got off stage.”

On performance days, her dad John Eikenburg curls her hair into ringlets. Often, relatives and classmates join her younger brother John and mom Melissa Carroll in the audience. “What’s most important to us is for her to have fun and enjoy the experience,” says Carroll. “We discussed the time commitment and that she would have to manage her time efficiently and stay on top of her homework. There’s a lot of what she’s learning in her ballet class and from this experience that are transferable to other areas of her life – visualization, how to control your body, following directions, discipline, expression, musicality.”



Ellie and her younger fellow cast members are students at the Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy. In this season’s production of The Nutcracker, 147 students ranging in age from 8-22 are taking the stage at the Wortham Center. Depending on the role, each student is scheduled to perform in at least 6 or 7 of the 34 shows.

“Participating in the Nutcracker is a very unique experience for young dancers. They become more disciplined and learn about the hard work and commitment required for a professional ballet production,” says Andrew Edmonson, Houston Ballet Director of Marketing & Public Relations. “Additionally, getting to work with the company is a dream come true for many of the students. It is a chance for them to share the stage with their idols and feel as though they are a part of the family, which is very special indeed.”

The children who audition for The Nutcracker must be in the pre-professional track of the Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy. Auditions are held in September and rehearsals begin in October.

“I was a nervous wreck last year when I tried out,” says Ellie. “This year, I knew I could do it since I did it last year. It’s much more fun when you know you could do it.”

Ellie balances the rigorous rehearsal schedule with plenty of outdoor playtime. She’s demonstrating the potential rewards of committing to any intense program – the confidence and pride that comes with accomplishment. “Now I know that if try hard enough I could do it. I know I can get into the Olympic Games if I do something about it,” she says. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen with ballet but I’m just gonna cry when I can’t do it anymore.”




The Nutcracker Ballet may be the most popular ballet of all times. The classic tale centers on the story of a Christmas Eve celebration written by E.T.A. Hoffman. The Moscow Imperial Theater’s director commissioned renowned composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to write the music and choreographer Marius Petipa to design the dances. It premiered one week before Christmas in 1892. The Nutcracker did not make it to America until 1944, when it was first presented at the San Francisco Ballet. The Houston Ballet first presented the family classic in 1987, with choreography by Ben Stevenson. More than one million people have seen the Houston Ballet’s performances over 26 seasons.

Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Dancers Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez


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