Rockettes put on spectacular show

This past weekend’s temperatures reached the 60s, but it was snowflakes and sparkles at the Benedum Center as The Radio City Christmas Spectacular opened for its two-month run. The Rockettes, in all of their kick-line glory, are performing in Pittsburgh until Dec. 6. The two-hour-long show is a whirlwind of Christmas motifs: Santa arrives by sleigh but is upstaged by a sugarplum fairy bear, and Christmas shoppers — like models in a Gap commercial in bright scarves — hurry through New York City streets to find that last gift.

The Rockettes’ oldest and most famous routine is that of the wooden soldiers. Included in the Spectacular since 1933, it is a seven-minute test of the Rockettes’ uniformity. In high-waist, white sailor pants and red military jackets, the line moves about the stage creating star and circle patterns, culminating in a domino effect with each toy soldier falling down on the other.

Christina Larson-Hauk, who has been with the Rockettes for 10 seasons, spoke about the rigor of the Rockette dance regimen. “We rehearse for about three weeks before we open in Pittsburgh, six days a week for seven hours per day. We rehearse for a good portion of the morning, lunch break, and then the rest of the night. We break everything down. Go over every little step — it’s very tedious. We run things over and over again to get up our stamina,” she said, explaining how the troupe perfects the uniform look for which it is famous.

Although most of the cast was trained in ballet, jazz, or tap, Larson-Hauk emphasized that the Rockette style is so much different than any other. “It’s its own beast — its own style. Getting it into your body is difficult on top of trying to be in line, be on the right number. Then, of course, you have the directors and dance captains in the front,” she said.

Not only does a Rockette have to be a fully trained dancer, she must fit the “look” as well. Larson-Hauk is 5'9" tall but says that dancers’ heights range between 5'6½" and 5'10½", with shorter ladies at the end in order to create the optical illusion of a line of identical dancers.

While for most of us, the Christmas season ends with the new year, Larson-Hauk attends charity functions and promotes the Spectacular year round. “It’s definitely an honor to say I’m a Radio City Rockette,” she said.

The fact that the show is called a “spectacular” is not an inaccuracy. The closing scene is that of the Nativity, with live camels and farm animals accompanying the actors onstage, and although this is the most dazzling effect of the night, it is also the most out of place.

The first hour and 40 minutes of the show was an exaggerated spoof of the Christmas holiday — with “little people” playing elves and actors, dressed in various animal costumes, reenacting a dance from *The Nutcracke*r ballet — so the stark change to religious history is unsettling.

Nonetheless, for those who break out their Christmas decorations at Halloween and who are in contention with their Housefellow for permission to put up a personal dorm Christmas tree, this performance is not to be missed. For everyone else, take your children someday.