Behind the scenes with the Brandeis Ballet Club

Performers stand in front of notes
Many details, ranging from new choreography to intricate costumes, went into producing The Nutcracker.

By Kennedy Ryan
Photography by Dan Holmes
November 30, 2023

When Emma Stott ’25 and Liliana Aspromonte ’25 came to Brandeis, they both knew they wanted to carry on their passion for dance, even if it wasn't going to be the focus of their studies. 

Stott is majoring in psychology and education while Aspromonte majors in history and International and Global Studies. Their paths converged under the spotlight of the Brandeis Ballet Club, where they found the perfect venue for the love for performing.

“I was lost on my way to find the auditions. I saw Emma in her bun and knew we were going to the same place,” said Aspromonte. 

The Brandeis Ballet Club is a student-lead organization that gives members the opportunity to perform in a judgment free, fun environment. With a handful of performances a year, free to the community, the club rehearses throughout the week during the semester. One of their biggest shows is the annual Nutcracker performance. 

Since 2017, the Brandeis Ballet Club has held the tradition of performing the popular ballet. This year's performance will take place December 4th and 5th at 7:30pm in the SCC Theater.

Following an audition process early in the fall semester, students spend months rehearsing, crafting costumes, and making the production their own. Brandeis Stories spoke with Stott and Aspromonte, this year’s co-presidents of the club, to get a behind the scenes look at the production. 

students sit with laptops
person in mouse ears
ballet shoes on stage
people put their hair in a bun

What inspired you both to join the Ballet Club?

Emma:  After coming to Brandeis, I realized how much I missed performing. I’ve performed at various dance studios since the age of 3, including the Boston Ballet, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and Koltun Ballet. The Ballet Club has been a fun opportunity to dance again while meeting people with similar interests. It’s great performing in a supportive community. 

Liliana: I knew I wanted to keep dancing when I came to Brandeis. I started dancing at 5. By the time I was in high school I was practicing and performing about 6 days a week. I grew up performing in The Nutcracker and other annual ballet productions.

As soon as I went to the first audition placement, it was very clear this was something I’d want to be involved with. It was an environment that promoted continued dancing in a way that’s fun and not stressful. Everyone is really busy, so it’s very important that we have a low stress environment.

Student stands behind curtain

Why is the Brandeis Ballet Club important to you? 

Liliana: It’s become such a large and important part of my Brandeis experience. It really is a community where we all get to come together to have fun and bond over a shared passion. It let me meet and become friends with amazing people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It is also so immensely gratifying to be able to help foster a space where people can continue to dance that allows them to express their most authentic and creative selves. 

Emma: Ballet club is important to me because it provides a supportive and encouraging environment to continue dancing. It also has been a great way for me to get to know more people on campus and make amazing friends. I also love that the ballet club offers the opportunity to perform, as that is something that I really missed. 

students look at notes

What is the production process like? 

Emma: Every element of the production is student-led. We have a large board with at least one member present at each rehearsal. After the auditions are complete and the cast is selected we rehearse four times a week in the Gosman Dance Studios. We rehearse a few days a week for a couple months leading up to the big  performance. I’m always impressed by everyone’s commitment to the show. It’s been a fun process. 

How has the tradition of performing ‘The Nutcracker’ evolved? 

Liliana: It’s the 14th year of the Brandeis Ballet Club and our 6th year performing The Nutcracker. We’ve gained a lot more people over the years. This year’s performance has 31 cast members. We always like to follow the tradition of performing the show, but we try to evolve every year to make changes and grow. 

This year, our biggest change was updating the choreography during the battle scene during Act 1. It was a feat in itself, but something we knew we wanted to do. Our goal is to keep things ever evolving because we want to help our dancers stand out in the best way possible, playing to everyone’s strengths.

people dancing
dodging a sword dance
Stott dances
Dancers face the back

What are some of your favorite details that go into creating The Nutcracker?

Emma: We’re making an effort to revamp our costume collection. We still have many of the costumes from years past, but we are prioritizing comfort for the cast. We want everyone to feel confident during their performance. We recently had a get together where we all worked on our costumes, adding embellishments, jewels, and flowers. 

Despite ballet being different from your majors, how does your ballet club experience impact your coursework?

Liliana: With ballet, there’s a lot of moving parts and so many specific details. When I’m setting and teaching a large ensemble piece, like the party scene in The Nutcracker, there’s 15 dancers, all with different choreography. There’s also figuring out things like spacing, timing, costumes, props, music, lighting, and all these small specific details to create the bigger and cohesive scene. 

When I’m studying for one of my history exams, for example, there's a very similar approach I take, as I need to focus on studying and remembering the specific historical details, in order to be able to contextualize and understand the bigger picture. I would say this way of thinking has proven useful for me in my academic experience at Brandeis. 

Emma: I think ballet is an activity that requires consistent practice and immense dedication. I think these values definitely transfer into my course work. 

What makes the Ballet Club ‘Brandeisian?’ 

Liliana: The Brandeis ballet community is so wonderfully inclusive and kind. Many of our members grew up in dance environments surrounding negativity, competitiveness, and a general sense of discomfort. I joined the ballet club because I wanted to dance, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d make a great group of friends. When we perform, it’s apparent that this is a group of people who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. 

Emma: The Ballet club has been such a positive experience. Everyone is really supportive and focused on having fun. Our club is Brandeisian because everyone is so willing to help create everything. Each performer has contributed a huge amount to every aspect of the performance. We are all so committed.

ballet shoes