Artist Spotlight: Q&A with PBT’s Stephen Hadala

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Beyond dancing nearly every male role in The Nutcracker, PBT’s Stephen Hadala holds the distinction of being one of the only company members to have performed in all 11 years of Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr’s version of this timeless holiday classic. Here, he shares some of his favorite Nutcracker memories:

Stephen, you hold the distinction of being one of the only dancers to have performed in all 11 seasons of Terrence S. Orr’s The Nutcracker. What was it like to be part of the first cast to premiere the new production? What was the energy like at the studios and in the theatre?

“Excitement is the key word for this. Just whenever you create a ballet from the ground up there’s always a certain level of excitement. The way Terrence S. Orr approached it, he was really interested in input from the dancers…So it was really building all these characters. Of course opening night came along…it was such a sense of unity, everywhere from the dancers and Terry and the costumiers and the backstage crew, everyone just working together to put on this new production at the Benedum. It was exciting for the audience because it was something brand-new,  created for them. (Terrence S. Orr) used the names of people at the party…the McTavish, the Heinz, the Kaufmans….all these names that everyone in Pittsburgh knows and can relate to. I think everyone had that feeling that it was something special for them, a new holiday tradition that they could welcome and be excited about every Christmas.”

What is your favorite part of PBT’s version of The Nutcracker?

“Hands down it’s Drosselmeyer. In other versions, Drosselmeyer kind of appears at the party and does a couple of tricks…In Terrence S. Orr’s The Nutcracker, he’s the storyteller, the thread that sews everything together and makes the story complete, which I like because you get to go with him on the journey from the beginning all the way to the end. There are so many facets to his character. It’s a challenging part, because you are telling the story and introducing the nephew to Marie and also entertaining at the party. It’s a complex character. I’ve been fortunate to do it every year, all 11 years. Every year this character gets deeper and deeper, it’s just a fun one to do.”

Have you developed any personal Nutcracker rituals or traditions to get yourself in the spirit of the show?

“I start with the different roles, more so the character roles…I always start to think about what I did last year and any ideas that I could introduce to the part to make it more interesting. But before the show, if I’m doing Drosselmeyer, I like to go and set up every prop, I lay them out the same way on the prop cart every time, check and double check the props several times. There’s a magic trick with a purple tablecloth that we use. The butler’s in charge of handling it but I like to personally fold it myself and make sure that it’s placed in the same way. Before every show and before every rehearsal I make sure I personally touch and put into place my props. Also, I guess it’s kind of a calming thing before the show starts.”

You’re known for your onstage personality and character roles with PBT. Which Nutcracker character do you have the most fun portraying?

“I think Drosselmeyer is my favorite, because it’s something that I get to do every year. I’m really interested in trying to add a lot of realism to the character…trying to become that person. That’s why Drosselmeyer’s my favorite, because I do get to every year kind of enhance him and add to him.I really enjoy the Arabian pas de deux and the lead Russian. The Russian music is so iconic. When you think of Christmas and Nutcracker, you tend to think about the Russian music. It’s a crowd pleaser.”

What is the most parts you’ve ever danced in one run of PBT’s The Nutcracker?

“I think in one run I’ve done Drosselmeyer, the general, grandfather, the pirate doll, Dr. Stahlbaum, Rat King, Snow King, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabian and Cavalier. I think over the 11 years I’ve performed every male spot except for Mr. McTavish and the Harlequin doll.”

Describe the technical challenge of preparing for so many diverse roles.

“I think it gets easier every year once you’ve done every role. It is a challenge. The hard part is looking at each role and kind of figuring out how you have to play it…I think that’s a lot with the character roles just figuring out how to do the part justice without overplaying it or underplaying it. Each divertissement in the second act has a character aspect to it, you know the Russian obviously has to have a lot of bravado and excitement…Chinese you’re dancing with two ribbons with a giant dragon behind you…That’s the hard part figuring out for each role how you’re going to play or dance it.”

When you’re not at the theatre, what other holiday traditions do you enjoy with your family? 

“We usually start with Thanksgiving. Usually, my wife and I have thanksgiving dinner at home just the two of us here in Pittsburgh. Both of our families are in Michigan. We usually like to spend that long weekend together. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, my wife and I love to cook, so we usually do a fondue on Christmas Eve and appetizers and dessert and then on Christmas Day make some sort of Christmas feast. As much as we love to cook, we also love to eat…(My wife) usually comes to The Nutcracker on opening night. I’ve been fortunate to do Drosselmeyer on opening night a lot. She really enjoys seeing me in that role, but she also enjoys the excitement of opening night and the whole experience of that first show. She usually likes to come again toward the end…because at the end it starts getting even more creative. It’s a different show every time. We’re going to try to bring (our 9-month-old son Ian) this year, at least to come back stage and see everything.”