A touring production of the famed Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes is coming to the BJCC Arena Dec. 12-14, and an aspiring dancer from Tuscaloosa has snagged one of the key roles. Alden Phillips, a ninth grader at Northridge High School, plays Clara, the little girl who is the focus of a Christmas Eve fantasy dance sequence based on a portion of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker.
“Clara is a girl who is dreaming about dancing with bears,” Phillips says.
I interviewed Phillips in October at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, where she and the company were preparing for their 18-city tour. This was the third year that Phillips had tried out for the show, and she beat out dozens of other young dancers to win the part. There were about 40 girls at her Chicago audition, as well as others in separate New York and Los Angeles tryouts. Phillips’ success is the fruit of a lot of practice in Tuscaloosa.
“I dance all the time,” she says. “I have classes Monday through Friday at the Dance Centre — ballet, jazz, tap. I do anything.”
She has also studied ballet with renowned choreographer Thor Sutowski.
The Christmas Spectacular, with more than 50 cast members, is built around the high kicks and precision choreography of the Rockettes, as shown off in a series of production numbers, including “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “New York at Christmas.” There’s also a “Living Nativity” scene and numerous appearances by Santa Claus. The show features live music and a large projection screen. The touring show is based on the 75th anniversary Christmas production presented in 2007 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Phillips enjoys performing for large audiences. At the time of our interview, she and the company had done two shows, in Mystic, Conn., and Hershey, Penn.
“When I’m backstage, I get really nervous, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ Then I go onstage and I see all the audience staring at me and it makes me not nervous. I just get up my energy and do my best, and it’s just great, and everyone claps.
“My favorite part is when I change into my tutu and come out front and everyone is standing around watching me and I’m just doing a little solo,” Phillips says. “It makes me excited.”
Excitement aside, the life of a dancer is a demanding one. There is the constant pressure -- understandable in such an expensive production -- to get the routines perfect.
“It’s very hard work,” Phillips says. “The choreographers give you corrections, and the first time you’re asked, you have to correct it. You can’t just get by, anytime after they’ve asked you once. You have to just know what you’re doing.”
According to Phillips, performers often have to “play through the pain,” just like athletes. “I get sore and tired all the time,” she says. Fortunately, the production provides two physical therapists. (Phillips is accompanied on tour by her mom, Joyce Phillips.)
The 15-year-old is enjoying the experience. “It’s not easy, but it’s fun,” she says. Phillips would love to be part of the Christmas show again in 2009, but she may outgrow the part of Clara. “Next year, I’ll probably be too tall,” she says.
But a growth spurt could mean a different opportunity.
“If I’m tall enough one day, I want to be a Rockette,” Phillips says. “You have to be really tall, with long legs, because that’s what they’re known for.”
Presently 4’ 11” and weighing about 75 pounds, Phillips is hopeful that she can grow into the part and participate in something that she sees as very special.
“It’s just spectacular,” she says. “The Rockettes just look like they’re having such fun dancing on stage in front of all the people. They are so precise, and they entertain everyone. No matter what, they’re always perfect. They might mess up maybe one or two times, but rarely. And it’s just so exciting.”