Penn Figure Skating Club brings ‘The Nutcracker’ to life

A cast of 31 skaters took to the ice to perform original choreography set to Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet.

The entire skating cast of The Nutcracker in a row on the ice.
The cast of Penn Figure Skating Club’s Winter Show 2022 “The Nutcracker” is joined by alumna Cathy Ding Wharton Class of 2020 (far right) for a final bow at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink on Dec. 9.  

Dozens of figure skaters glide on and off the ice, taking off and putting on skate guards, warming up, and practicing final jumps, spirals, and spins ahead of the show. In a nearby locker room, skaters tighten skates, apply eyeliner whiskers and makeup, and stretch.

As the lights go down and the audience of nearly 350 take its seats for the Winter Show of the Penn Figure Skating Club, behind the scenes the sound of nervous, excited voices rises behind the home team entrance at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink. Performers line up peering out behind the entryway across the ice at the audience assembled on the north side of the rink. Then, third-year Vivian Tung, show vice president, puts her finger to her lips. “It’s showtime,” she says. The lights go up and the music and narration begin.

This year’s Winter Show was an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet ‘The Nutcracker’ set on Christmas Eve, with original choreography and pre-recorded narrations by skaters Tung, third-year Melodie Liu from Philadelphia, and third-year Kira Lu of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, reading a script by first-year Angie Cao of Beaverton, Oregon. The one hour and 15-minute performance featured 31 club members and included two Acts, 20 scenes, and an intermission skated by alumna Cathy Ding, Wharton Class of 2020, who joined the Penn Figure Skating Club just after it was founded in 2016.

Four different shots of ice skaters performing various roles of The Nutcracker.
Pictured (left to right top to bottom) 1. In the final scene, The Nutcracker’s Clara (Fay Shuai) and Fritz (Nick Bausenwein) close the Penn Figure Skating club’s Winter Show. 2. Penn third-year Kelly Oh performs a solo as the Sugar Plum Fairy in a rendition of “The Nutcracker” by the Penn Figure Skating club. 3. Nick Bausenwein leads the skaters in the Waltz of the Flowers. 4. Penn Figure Skating club members Angie Cao (left) and Julie Shin skate as Mother Ginger and Her Polichinelles in the club’s Winter 2022 performance of “The Nutcracker.” 

“This is the first year we have done a full storyline production” says Nick Bausenwein, a second-year majoring in communications in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It is a big milestone, and we were able to do it because the membership has grown.”

There are currently more than 40 members in the club with skaters of all ability levels participating—almost half are beginners, says Bausenwein, who is from Eatontown, New Jersey, served on the show committee, and played the role of Fritz. “The different pieces cater to different individuals,” he says. “Everyone gets to be involved in telling the story and moving that story forward, which is really nice.”

The fast-paced program on Dec. 9 showcased the talents of the club members offering solos, duets, and groups skating to “The Battle,” “Waltz of the Snowflakes,” and “Waltz of the Flowers.” The costumes offered pops of color against the stark white ice and soloists performed an array of glides, spins, lifts, spirals, and jumps, each met with enthusiastic cheers.

As show V.P., Tung, a digital media design major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science from Sugar Land, Texas, managed activity backstage, queueing the skaters in time to the narration, in addition to skating in three pieces. In the program notes, Tung acknowledged the many hours of practice leading up to the show and “the volunteers that stepped up to run the booths, control the lighting and sound, and record the show.” Other volunteers tended to the doors for tickets and sold hot chocolate and flowers in aid of the club.

Elliot Jang performing The Nutcracker on ice.
In the role of the Nutcracker Prince, third-year Elliot Jang performs a solo.

Third-year Elliot Jang, who skated the role of the Nutcracker Prince, says, “The club uses the ice Friday evenings from 3:10 to 4:10 then joins the free skate afterwards and practices off ice as well. With the show coming up we added training and were on ice two times a week to get ready.”

Jang is co-president of the Penn Figure Skating Club alongside Kelly Oh, a third-year in the College majoring in health and societies.

Oh skated the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Arriving at Penn her first year from San Francisco, she says the club was one of the first she joined. She says, “I found people to connect with,” in addition to a space to continue skating.

Many of the more advanced skaters like Oh, Jang, and Bausenwein have skated for a dozen or more years. Almost a third of the club members are former or current competitors and medalists in figure skating, synchronized skating, and speed skating. Jang skated internationally representing Taiwan and is a 2016 Taiwanese National Champion. Before coming to Penn, Jang and Bausenwein even competed against one another.

Four images of skaters practicing and preparing backstage for The Nutcracker ice skating performance.
Pictured (left to right top to bottom) 1. Backstage at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink, Fay Shuai, who plays Clara, holds the nutcracker ahead of the Penn Figure Skating Club’s Winter Show. 2. Club skaters practice for Waltz of the Snowflakes. 3. Skaters prepare for the show lacing up skates, applying makeup, and making final calls. 4. Backstage, Penn Figure Skating club member Yiyi Guo draws mascara whiskers on Grace Low before the show.   

“When you grew up skating there is a nice connection, it is great fun” says Jang, who is majoring in neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences and is from Mendham, New Jersey.

As the evening’s program came to a close, each member of the cast reentered the rink, one by one, to form a line of skaters on the ice, a community bound by a passion for performing and skating.