Becoming The Nutcracker Bear

Boston Ballet Staff

The Nutcracker Bear surprises and delights the Silberhaus party guests

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Go behind the scenes and get your paws on the secrets behind Boston’s most beloved Bear.

The Nutcracker Bear waits in the wings for his surprise entrance

Photo credit: Liza Voll

A closer look at the tulle technique that gives the Bear’s fur a realistic look on stage

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

The Nutcracker Bear waits in the wings for his surprise entrance

Photo credit: Liza Voll

A closer look at the tulle technique that gives the Bear’s fur a realistic look on stage

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

The Nutcracker Bear’s entrance during the Silberhaus family Christmas party never fails to surprise and delight. Brought in by Uncle Drosselmeier as the highlight of the party’s magical entertainment, the Bear playfully performs for the guests, amazing them with his high-flying leaps, dizzying turns, and big personality.

From creating his loveable look in the Costume Shop to perfecting his moves in the studio, take a peek behind the scenes to discover how The Nutcracker Bear comes to life.

Head to Paw Style

Original to Mikko Nissinen’s production, this Nutcracker Bear costume is built and maintained in house at Boston Ballet. Emmy Award-winning designer David Walker originally created the costume in 1995 and passed down his secret techniques for making the Bear. Although the overall concept has not changed over the years, Charles Heightchew, Manager of Costumes and Wardrobe, has incorporated slight updates to make the costume lighter, more comfortable, and more durable.

The original design was made entirely out of satin Lycra, which was heavy and held in body heat. “It really weighed a lot. It also didn’t last very long, because after a few years it would start to sag,” Heightchew explains.

A testament to the true athleticism needed to perform the role, his team now uses a sports mesh material to create the inner lining of the costume. “It’s kind of like a football jersey,” says Heightchew. “The structure, the shoulder, the chest, the body, all of that is mesh, which actually lets air breathe and weighs hardly anything.”

To create the illusion of realistic, graduated fur, Heightchew’s team uses over 160 yards of tulle cut into varying widths sewn in dozens of rows. Tulle is a breathable and light fabric that allows the dancer to move more comfortably (especially when there’s so many tricks to be performed).  Although it appears bulky, the costume weighs less than 10 pounds thanks to the Costume Shop’s smart design.

Second Soloist Lawrence Rines has fun performing the role of The Nutcracker Bear

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

This Bear Can Dance

Second Soloist Lawrence Rines is no stranger to the inner workings of the Bear costume. Going into his tenth season of The Nutcracker, he has performed as the Bear since he first joined BBII, Boston Ballet’s second company. Now a veteran Bear, Rines shares his wisdom with dancers who are first learning the role.

The biggest challenge is navigating the complicated choreography and stage sets while wearing the big Bear head. Similar in structure to a safety helmet, the Bear’s head forms a globe around the dancer’s head with only small mesh holes near the nose and mouth from which to see out. “All you can see is from your eyebrows down, which is actually all you need to be able to see the floor to tell where you’re going,” Rines says.

Dancers learning the role for the first time only get one or two rehearsals with the costume in the studio before going into dress rehearsal. Since he already knows the choreography, Rines typically only has twenty minutes in the studio before going into performances. “I already have worked out the stress of the head, the costume, the spacing. Now, I could do it in my sleep,” he says.

Instead, he focuses his time on perfecting the character he portrays. Because the costume entirely encloses the dancer, Rines has found new ways to convey The Nutcracker Bear character through his body language. “Naturally for ballet dancers, you think about how you look when you execute the steps. But all of that is completely eliminated because the audience can’t see your face or body,” Rines explains.

Playing off the audience’s energy, he sometimes acts like a happy bear and other times a sassy bear. He tries to build in nuances to create a new character each time he performs. “I have so much fun with it. It’s one of those roles that is endearing and rewarding to perform, year after year.”

The Nutcracker

Nov 29–Dec 30, 2018

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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