Mikaela Santos to debut in lead role of Marie in Atlanta Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

After a year of national accolades and career milestones, six-year Atlanta Ballet dancer Mikaela Santos found herself speechless when cast as Marie, the primary female protagonist in the 2023 production of “The Nutcracker.”

“I was like, ‘Whoa. Is this real?’” Santos says. “It’s something I’ve always thought a lot about. I’ve watched people do it for six years, so I always asked myself, ‘Would I be able to do that?’”

A native of Manila, Philippines, Santos joined Atlanta Ballet’s fellowship program at the age of 17. Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin noticed her at the 2016 World Ballet Competition in Orlando, Florida, where she was a top-15 finalist. Santos spent a year with Atlanta Ballet 2 before becoming an apprentice in 2017 and a company member in 2018.

“She was a young but determined competitor with strong technical skills that demonstrated great potential to become a professional dancer,” Nedvigin says. “After joining Atlanta Ballet 2 and now six years with the company, Mikaela has gained the confidence and artistry needed to perform a lead role. She developed her own style and personality while on stage.”

In March, Santos debuted as Kitri in Yuri Possokhov’s “Don Quixote,” her first full-length ballet, and was named to Dance Magazine’s annual “25 to Watch” list in July. She also was a standout in Atlanta Ballet’s production of “Snowblind” in February.

She will take the stage as Marie for the first performance of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 8 and in four additional performances. (Atlanta Ballet will present 19 performances of “The Nutcracker” with four different casts.)

Choreographed by Possokhov in 2018 for Atlanta Ballet, this larger-than-life production features high-tech scenery and special effects, along with classical ballet technique that has a contemporary neoclassical twist.

Possokhov’s choreography challenges dancers to create patterns with their movement, presenting a fluid picture as a metaphor for transformation. For example, if a dancer does an arabesque, Possokhov has them enter the movement with a wave and finish it with continuous movement.

“I’ve never danced anything quite like it before,” says Santos. “The base of it is very classical, but it gives us the freedom to move in a different way.”

Possokhov’s version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” centers around themes of transformation, love and endless imagination through the motif of a leather-bound storybook etched with gold. Through the pages of this book, the young and shy Marie grows her imagination with her mysterious godfather, Drosselmeier, as they travel around the world, witnessing bullfights, snake charmers and a mystical flower garden.

The role of Marie features dances in both acts, including Act II’s grand pas de deux with the Nutcracker Prince. It is physically demanding in terms of stamina, says Santos, who takes extra measures to rest ahead of each show.

“It’s like a marathon,” she says. “Once the first act is over, you still have another act to go.”

Santos has performed in several scenes of Possokhov’s “The Nutcracker” in the past, including the Chinese and Spanish variations, the snow scene and the party and battle scenes. She hopes to put her own interpretation into the role of Marie.

“In every role, even if it’s a small, I want people to feel inspired and feel something when they’re watching me,” says Santos. “I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’m growing as an artist, not just as a dancer.”

She admits to feeling nervous before big performances. To calm those nerves, she follows a pre-performance routine of putting in her earbuds, listening to Tchaikovsky’s score and visualizing herself performing at her best.

All performances will feature the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra live. Similar to the choreography, Tom Pye’s scenic design is fluid and changes as each performer comes on stage.

In her 2021 review for ArtsATL, dance critic Cynthia Bond Perry wrote that the production is “impossible to take in all at once,” as it’s layered with imagery and visual details.

“To me, it is very magical,” Santos says. “I’ve done this version of ‘The Nutcracker’ for six years, and every year it feels like we are transported to a different place.”


Atlanta Ballet: “The Nutcracker”

Dec. 8-26. $30-$158. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-892-3303, atlantaballet.com


Carson Mason is an Atlanta-based dancer who studied contemporary dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. With bylines in several publications, including MLB.com, NBA.com, The State Newspaper, The Charlotte Observer and DanceAtlanta, Carson enjoys sharing stories of athletes and artists.

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