Q&A: Eileen Kelly, PNB's 'Clara' in the Nutcracker

"I get nervous...right when the overture ends it goes pitch black and then the spotlight comes on me." - Eileen Kelly

At 14 years old, Pacific Northwest Ballet's Eileen Kelly is already a vet of several classic children's ballet productions. She's played a bug in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a puppet in Pinocchio and this is her second year portraying young Clara in PNB's Nutcracker. Editorial Assistant Amy Minor, a family friend of Kelly's (who has occasionally shuttled the 14 year old to and from McCaw Hall to dance practice) sat down with the young dancer to find out what it's like to perform in the beloved holiday production.

SM: What's your favorite scene in the Nutcracker? 

EK: I like the fight scene, when everything changes in the house and the Christmas tree grows. I look around and see everything change and react to that. I love the imagination in that. 

SM: Do you ever peek out at the audience? 

EK: No. Because if you can see the audience the audience can see you and that's not allowed.

SM: Do you get nervous, and if so, how do you keep calm? 

EK: I get nervous when I'm lying in the bed in the beginning. Right when the overture ends it goes pitch black and then the spotlight comes on me. I pretend it's a dress rehearsal. Luckily you can only see the first row of people; the shape of their head and what hair do they're wearing. 

SM: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

 Before I go on stage my friend Alexa and I do our handshake. (Alexa plays a Scrim mouse in Act II.) She kisses my elbow and then we hug and do the cricket. (Eileen keeps the exact specifics of "the cricket" to herself.)

SM: Do you want to play the part of the grown-up Clara when you're older? 

EK: Yeah, I think it would be fun. I don't think any other young Clara has been in the PNB company so that would be an amazing experience. 

SM: What's the best part about being involved in the Nutcracker? 

 I like to think about everyone who comes to see it. It's a family classic so it's fun to be a part of making dreams come true.

The Nutcracker will run through December 30 at McCaw Hall; Visit PNB.org for a complete list of performance dates/times.

>> Further "Nutcracker" reading:

The Boys' Guide to PNB's Nutcracker, by Seattle mag editorial Director Rachel Hart
Entertaining: Kelly Moore's Sugar Plum Party

Below: More photos of Eileen as "Clara" in this year's production of the Nutcracker