The Rockettes may be synonymous with the holiday season, but the high-kicking dancers stay busy throughout the year.
"I start training for Christmas probably about two or three weeks after we close the [previous year's Christmas] show," says seventh-year Rockette Mary Cavett. "You get yourself back in dance class; you maintain and take care of your body after the previous season. And then probably about a month out from rehearsals, that's when I start saying, 'OK, let's do this for real.' You start working hard and making sure you're at the top of your game at the very start of rehearsals, because from there's it's an uphill climb until show time!"
Not that things calm down once the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
begins. The Rockettes perform 16 shows a week, on top of rehearsals for special events such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and other holiday appearances. Cavett jokes that the overlap of performances and the holidays couldn't be better---the dancers are all burning so many calories that they eagerly dig into all of the season's baked goods.
And though the work can be grueling, energy levels never flag because, as Cavett says, the Rockettes are "each other's cheerleaders like nobody's business. There's no rank of hierarchy, so no one's vying for position. And we do look out for the good of the team. So we do funny little skits backstage, or we play fun pranks on each other to keep our spirits up and to keep us alive and awake. There's always Christmas shenanigans happening."
First exposed to the Rockettes as a child in Arizona via the televised Macy's Parade, Cavett auditioned at the yearly open call while studying drama at NYU. But even after she landed the job, it wasn't until a year later that she ever had the chance to actually see the show; while on tour, Cavett and the rest of the cast drove to Milwaukee to see one of the other touring companies. Now, of course, Cavett knows enough about the Spectacular's history to rave about the inclusion of the Rag Doll number in this year's installment.
"I love being a really sparkly, beautiful princess, but I love nothing more than being a goofy rag doll," Cavett says. "It shows a little sillier side to the Rockettes. It was originally in the show in 1940, and it sprang up occasionally, but I think this year's is the best version we've ever had. I think the actor in me loves the rag doll number, and the dancer in me loves doing the 'Snow' number. That number is more intricate and technically difficult and very graceful and very beautiful."
As the show's finale, "Let It Snow" begins with just a few Rockettes on stage and eventually builds into what Cavett describes as "a glittering blizzard" of all the Rockettes dancing together.
"We show some range, the Rockettes," she says with a laugh. "We get to be woodland creatures, reindeer, very high-fashion New Yorkers. We get to be the toy soldiers and show off our militaristic precision. We're all over the place! But I think ['Snow'] is a very special way to close the show because it has to do with everyone's specific experience of winter and Christmas. And we all come together to be one really spectacular thing while maintaining our own individuality."
Mark Peikert is the executive editor of Backstage Magazine
Photo courtesy of MSG Entertainment