Livingston (right) dances in his first performance of “The Nutcracker” in 2012.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
When Nolan Livingston graces the stage next week for Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts’ production of “The Nutcracker,” the 15-year-old will be accomplishing a goal he has been working toward for half of his dancing career. Livingston, an accomplished hip-hop dancer and budding ballet dancer, will perform as the Nutcracker Prince himself in his fourth holiday performance.
“My goal when I did ‘The Nutcracker’ for the second time was to be the Nutcracker,” he said. “My ballet teachers set up a plan to help me grow, and learn to perform the best I could. They helped me through the entire process.”
Livingston started out as a hip-hop dancer, inspired by his sister’s performances and some videos he saw online. He asked his mother if he could try it, he explained, and that’s when everything began.
Over the next few years, he began improving in his skills and performing with students several years above him, before eventually being asked to take a risk and try out a new dance form.
“I had been taking hip-hop for a few years and my dance teacher asked me to try out for a ballet piece [in which] they were accepting beginner boys,” Livingston recalled. “I tried out, was accepted, and I liked it so I started taking boy’s dance.”
In 2012, Livingston performed in his first “The Nutcracker” as a lower billed ballet dancer, and two years later he returned to the stage for his second. His father, Chris Livingston, remembers Nolan coming to him that time and setting his new goal.
“He decided he wanted to be the Nutcracker Prince before he turned 17,” Chris said. As it turned out, Nolan would get his chance two years early.
Chris also performs in the dance as Mayor Silverhouse, the father of Clara, the female lead. His first performance was two years ago, when he was dragged on stage by his children to audition for one of the “dad” roles, and is now returning to dance with his kids again.
He recalled the first time Nolan performed in a ballet piece, and how it quickly grew on him, despite his early apprehensiveness to the form. “It was more controlled and he felt that he could breathe — it was a dance form that he could breathe into,” Chris said.
Chris explained that ballet, unlike hip-hop dancing, needs persistent work and practice to get good at, and he watched his son work hard to get where he is, especially in the last year. Earlier this year, Nolan went to a summer dance intensive at the Milwaukee Ballet, where he received a full-tuition scholarship. For the next six weeks, he trained for eight hours a day, every day, under some of the best dancers in the country. “I just trained and did the best that I could the entire time. They got me farther than I thought I was ever going to get,” Nolan said.
When he returned, he was a completely different dancer, Chris explained. Shortly after, he auditioned for “The Nutcracker” and was given the titular role, much to everyone’s surprise.
“We were all surprised that they cast him, but now that I’ve been watching him dance on stage, it doesn’t surprise me,” Chris said.
Being a ballet dancer has its ups and downs, Nolan said, and growing up as a boy in a small town, the push to be in the arts has rarely been on the forefront.
“As a kid, most [boys] are encouraged to do sports and not the arts. It’s not encouraged for guys of any age,” he explained. “I wish there were more guys, because the way guys dance in any role is always much different than women in most cases.”
Saint Mary’s University freshman Kevin Smith, a former musical theater student, said that even in his field, there is a dip in male actors and performers. “The industry of theater is lacking guys. I don’t know if it’s a preconception that guys don’t do theater or that guys don’t dance, but in general the whole industry is lacking,” Smith said.
Smith explained that he has danced before in musicals, but dancing in his first ballet is a different thing entirely. “The Nutcracker” is a big production, and while he will miss out on the next run in 2020 while he studies overseas in London, he wants to continue working on these types of shows.
“The more I see, the more I learn. It’s a scheduled process, especially now during tech week, but it’s a very well-put-together process to put on this fabulous show,” Smith added.
Isaac Meinke and Seamus Schwaba are two of the younger members of the 103-member cast, at 11 and 12 years old respectively, but they embrace the culture in which they have found themselves. Meinke has performed in “The Nutcracker” before, but this time around, he is performing as Fritz, the younger brother of Clara who ends up putting all of the story’s events in motion.
“I’m the smallest one in my family, so [being Fritz] isn’t much different,” he said. “It’s pretty much just having fun and all.”
This is Schwaba’s first performance, but he is already wearing his ballet pride on his sleeve. “If people make fun of me for it, I don’t care. It’s cool. It’s something I’m proud of and I brag about it,” he said.
Nolan explained that performing year after year has helped him develop as a performer, helping him to progressively take on larger roles year after year. Chris explained that through his successes, he has watched his son develop not only as a dancer, but also as an individual.
“If they excel at something, it gives him a lot of confidence. He’s just gotten more confidence in himself, and I think that’s bled into other areas of his life,” Chris said. “If I think about the kid he is in each level, his dancing has gotten better, but he’s also grown as a person.”
With each successive year, Nolan pushed himself to go further and inch closer to his goal. This year, he will finally have a chance to perform in the role he dreamed of years ago, but that won’t stop him from working toward his next big breakthrough.
“I pushed myself for this because where else are you supposed to go but up, if you’re doing something that you love?” he said.
Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts and Saint Mary’s Department of Theatre and Dance will present the Dance Repertory Company’s 10th biennial production of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic ballet, “The Nutcracker,” at the Page Theater at 6:30 p.m. on November 28 through December 1, and a matinee performance on Sunday, December 2, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and senior citizens and $12 for adults. For tickets or more information, visit http://page.smumn.edu/.