By Aaron Allen | The Seattle Medium
If you didn’t have enough reasons to see The Nutcracker performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) this season, Annalise Dautricourt and DianaStarr Robinson are poised to woo the crowds with their history making performances. Dautricourt, age 12, and Robinson, age 11, have joined the ranks of pioneers in the world of ballet as they have become the first two Black Ballerinas to perform the Principal of Clara in “The Nutcracker” during the same season in the history of the PNB.
Until now there has only been one Black Ballerina, Samrawit Saleem (2017), to perform the Principal of Clara for PNB’s rendition of The Nutcracker. What is unique about Dautricourt and Robinson is they were chosen to star in both shows. The Ballet has two different production groups – Troop A and Troop B — and each one has the two best dancers in PNB to perform as Principal for their respective productions. Dautricourt plays Clara in the A productions and Robinson in the B productions.
“This is an amazing experience,” says Robinson. “I have always looked up to past Claras, it is just crazy that I am here as one of two Black Claras this year. I feel like I have gotten somewhere because I have worked so hard to get into that place of my dreams to be Clara.”
The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E.T.A. Hoffman, which is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Story of a Nutcracker.” Dumas was a Black French writer, most notably known for his works “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Although what is seen on the stage today is different in detail from the original story, the basic plot remains the same: the story of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King with seven heads.
In the world of ballet, to be picked to perform the Principal role is like being the number one draft pick in professional sports. The process isn’t random and is highly competitive and honored. In the history of ballet, Misty Copeland was the first Black Principal Dancer for New York’s American Ballet Theater — one of the world premiere dance companies.
“This is my third year now [performing in the production] and a role that I’ve always wanted to play,” says Dautricourt. “I always looked up to past Claras and there is so much hard work that goes into production, and I remember all the people that supported me along the way. And no matter who you are, you can accomplish anything.”
After a long, unexpected hibernation, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s sparkling production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker returns to the stage for live performances this holiday season. Featuring Tchaikovsky’s timeless score performed by the world famous PNB Orchestra, PNB Company dancers in show-stopping roles, bright young stars from the PNB School, unique-to-Seattle sets and costumes by Ian Falconer (creator of Olivia the Pig), and McCaw Hall’s lobbies decked out with the season’s best photo ops, PNB’s production is a holiday treasure for audiences young and old.
Both young ladies have been dancing and performing since toddlers and to see their dream manifest has started their post pandemic career’s off to a lightning start.
“DianaStarr has been dancing since she came out of the womb,” says Porscha Robinson, DianaStarr’s mother. “She has been dancing in studio since she was two years of age, and I knew she was going to be a dancer and so I have been preparing her for this moment.”
“Annalise was three when I first took her to see the Nutcracker,” says Annalise’s mother, Safiya Dautricourt. “She started with PNB when she was four, and it has really always been a dream of hers to dance in the production.”
What stands out about both young ladies is the desire to represent their culture. It is important to both of them that the world knows that no matter your ethnic background there is a possibility to dream and achieve. That with hard work and determination, no matter the color of your skin, you can achieve your dreams.
“This has been very exciting,” says Dautricourt. “This Nutcracker season has been an amazing experience. It has been an amazing and fun challenge to take on the role of Clara this year and it’s been such a privilege.”
“I think this is a great opportunity to let those out there know that whatever race, color that you are that you can achieve anything in life,” added Dautricourt. “And that is something that is very important to me.”
While it may be easy to get caught up in their personal accomplishments, the young ladies and their families understand the significance of their performances this year, and believe that they not only have an opportunity to showcase their individual talents, but also can be an example to others that anything can happen when you work hard and pursue your dreams – even at a young age.
“DianaStarr is all about representation,” says Porcsha Robinson. “And spreading the wealth in the Black community for Black and Brown ballerinas that anything can be achieved. That no matter how big or small your dream may be, you can do it. And that there are people in whatever field or whatever art you may want to do that look like you and want to embrace and celebrate you.”
“There was a young Black woman who was the first Clara in 2017,” says Safiya Dautricourt. “But this is quite the interesting year because both productions Annalise and DianaStarr are both Black, and that is historical.”
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker has 26 performances that run from now through December 28 at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall. It will also stream digitally from December 20 through 28, for families and friends to watch from the comfort of their home. Visit George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker | Pacific Northwest Ballet (pnb.org) for information on tickets and streaming options.