By Wendy Pramik
Posted On: Dec 7, 2022
When BalletMet's "The Nutcracker" opens at Columbus' Ohio Theatre, all eyes will be on 27-year-old Zachary Guthier, when he embodies the wooden doll that springs to life as the Nutcracker Prince.
The beloved ballet, a heartwarming story set to an iconic Tchaikovsky score, turns 130 years old this year and is performed all around the world at Christmastime. The key figure is a nutcracker doll given as a Christmas gift to preteen Clara. After the girl falls asleep, the doll transforms into the Nutcracker Prince, protecting her from an army of mice and leading Clara on an enchanted adventure.
BalletMet's version employs five princes, who alternate performances. BalletMet Artistic Director Edwaard Liang chose Guthier to kick off the season on Dec. 8 in the title role. Guthier also will perform other lead roles, including the Mouse King, a Russian dancer named Trepak, and an Arabian dancer.
As the Nutcracker Prince, Guthier says his goal is to let Clara know he's excited to be alive and to be helping her on her journey through the night.
"The tale of the Nutcracker contrasts between Clara's childhood and her innocence, and her dreams of what it's like to becoming a woman and falling in love," Guthier said. "She gets a taste of adulthood while retaining her innocence on Christmas Eve.
"When I play the Nutcracker, I portray that I’m very thankful to Clara for freeing me from the nutcracker doll. I want to show her a great time."
Guthier has been performing in the Nutcracker since he was a youngster in Bloomington, Ind., when his parents worked at Indiana University. As a child, he relished the excitement of performing on stage.
"It was very magical," he said.
Guthier later moved to Madison, Wis., and he and spent several years on the West Coast as a professional dancer before joining BalletMet in January 2021.
He's portrayed many roles in the Nutcracker, from a toy soldier, a rat and Clara's little brother Fritz, all the way up to the Nutcracker Prince and Cavalier, the partner of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
He relishes the title role, and he says he and the other dancers enjoy an engaged audience.
"The audience loves a grand pirouette, big overhead lifts and multiple jetes in a circle around the stage," he said. "During the Russian dance, they go crazy.
"It takes a lot of stamina to get through a couple productions. Hearing some cheering, clapping, and laughter throughout the production lets us know the audience is having a good time."
Photo credit: Wendy Pramik
One thing he says takes getting used to is dancing in the oversized Nutcracker head.
"It's heavy and disorienting," he says. "It's a mesh that you can see out of and it's basically a bicycle helmet."
Guthier says his favorite part of the ballet is dancing in the Land of Snow, where the Nutcracker and Clara are greeted by dancing snowflakes.
"I love that scene," he says. "Some years you don't get to dance to the songs you like, but in this production, I get to dance to that music, and it's my favorite."
BalletMet is celebrating its 45th season in Columbus, and "The Nutcracker" runs from Dec. 8-24 The duration of the performance includes more than 200 dancers, including academy dancers, students and trainees, ranging in age from 8 to adult.
Guthier says it's a treat to work with children.
"It's really cute working with them in the studio," he said. "I remember what that felt like as a kid. You'd think, 'the professionals are here today.'"
Guthier recommends "The Nutcracker" as a fine introduction to ballet for those who are new to the art. It's also a great night out during the holidays.
"It's very child- and family-friendly," he said. "Even though we don't talk on stage, there is a narration. It's an easy introduction to a ballet and helps you stay engaged in what happens."
For more things to do this #HolidaysinOhio season, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org.
*All photos by Jennifer Zmuda (unless otherwise credited)