For ABT’s Isabella Boylston, The Nutcracker Pas de Deux Never Gets Old
How the ballerina spends the post-performance holiday season.
For American Ballet Theatre's Principal Dancer, Isabella Boylston, holiday tradition is practically part of her job description. Specifically when it comes to the annual performances of The Nutcracker. It's the fanciful, candy-filled, Tchaikovsky-composed ballet any dancer (or dance appreciator) associates with the winter season. And for Boylston, who's been performing in the show since the age of six, you might think the charm of the sugarplums has worn off, but not the case.
This year, Boylston and ABT are switching things up slightly and heading to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California to perform the classic, in which she'll play Clara the Princess. However, once the curtains come down, Boylston's holidays mean unwinding back at home in Brooklyn, with family and yummy takeout. Ahead she shares how she celebrates once the pointe shoes come off, the off-stage traditions she carries on, and her Holiday Haul of thoughtful, unique gifts to give and receive.
Photo: Courtesy of Isabella Boylston
Three words to describe your 2021 holiday season state of mind:
"Elated, exhausted (from The Nutcracker), and grateful!"
What is your most meaningful holiday tradition? Why is it special and how do you continue to keep it alive year after year?
"When I was a kid, we would all gather at my grandmother's house on Christmas Eve and read classic Christmas stories aloud to each other. Although my grandmother Patty is no longer with us, we still keep the reading tradition alive. David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice is always a crowd-pleaser."
What has 2021 taught you about gratitude? And how do you practice gratitude during the holiday season?
"2021 has taught me the importance of taking care of my mental health. I had always struggled with anxiety, and during the pandemic, it became really unsustainable so I started going to therapy. I'm so thankful to have access to mental health resources and wish everyone did. Being unable to dance with ABT and perform during the pandemic has given me an even greater appreciation of the precious and fleeting moments I have in the studio or on stage, dancing with my friends, and soaking up wisdom from my coach, Irina Kolpakova. I'll be living to the fullest every moment that I'm on stage in The Nutcracker this year."
For ballet dancers (and ballet lovers!), The Nutcracker is a staple of the holiday season. What have you come to appreciate most after so many performances of this piece, especially this year with ABT performances in L.A.?
"Our Nutcracker season is always grueling but rewarding. ABT usually does eight shows a week for two to three weeks, and our version is also the most physically demanding that I know of. I've been doing The Nutcracker every year since I was six, which is hard to believe. I could never get sick of the music of Tchaikovsky's Grand Pas de Deux and it keeps me inspired year after year, especially when my body is hurting from all the shows and rehearsals. The music is as grand as a sky full of stars on a winter's night."
Photo: Courtesy of American Ballet
Besides dance, what are other favorite ways to express your creativity during the holiday season?
"I'm not much of a decorator, but I really enjoy cooking and usually try to make some Swedish recipes from my mom's side of the family. I love making glögg, a Swedish hot mulled wine. My husband's family is Korean, so this year I'm planning to try making some traditional Korean dishes. My favorite is kimchi stew."
In addition to all the joy and celebration, holidays are undeniably stressful, too. How do you prioritize self-care during this time?
"I take baths nearly every day in winter. I love putting Epsom salts and oils in so it feels luxurious, and lighting a candle and listening to a podcast or music."
Your idea of a perfect holiday celebration:
"Usually I spend Christmas Day with my husband, mom, and brother. We always get a tree but this year we adopted a cat, so I'm hoping she won't eat it or climb it. We'll cook a nice big breakfast, open presents, and take a long chilly walk through Brooklyn. I love going to the movies. A lot of times we just end up ordering Chinese food for dinner from Han Dynasty or pick up soup dumplings in Chinatown. I'll be wearing a cozy sweater and probably glitter somewhere on my face, because who doesn't love glitter?"
Your holiday 2021 theme music:
"'Happy and Sad,' by Kacey Musgraves."
Isabella's Holiday Haul:
Self-care Sunday Bundle
The Odette Bag
Nudo Classic Ring
by Dane Shitagi
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Chiquito Leather Tote
Undaria Algae Oil
The Alchemist Highlight Intensifier
Top photo: Courtesy of Isabella Boylston
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