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.”