A Fourth Grade Nutcracker Debut
“The little heroine’s brother, Fritz — heart-catchingly impulsive, naughty and repeatedly, tenderly rebuked — becomes the ballet’s most captivatingly human character,” wrote the New York Times’ chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay of Ben Griffin (‘25).
Ben was cast in New York City Ballet’s production of “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’” as Fritz, the mischievous younger brother of Clara who devotes his energy to gaining his parents attention. Eight-year-old Ben who is performing on Broadway for the very first time, in a party scene filled with New York’s finest ballet dancers, caught the attention of the audience. It seems that all at once he has both moved into the world of Broadway, and the world of highly-coveted, glowing New York Times reviews.
Ben would never have taken ballet if it hadn’t have been for his mother’s love of ballet as a teenager. She took classes up until she was 19 and decided to enroll her son in ballet classes in the hope that he might enjoy the art as much as she did. Not only did Ben grow to enjoy it, he quickly became very, very good at it. When asked about how he became apart of The Nutcracker, Ben answered very simply, making the entire process sound very straightforward.
“There was an audition for The School of American Ballet at Brooklyn Friends that [my mom] heard about and we went to it, and I got in. And so I’ve been doing that for three years, and then I got into The Nutcracker,” said Ben.
In reality, Ben has been working very hard for a long time, both at acting and at ballet. A member of The School of American Ballet and recently accepted by a company that focuses entirely on ballet, a normal week for Ben includes travelling back and forth to Manhattan to rehearse upwards of four times a week. During The Nutcracker, however, he was travelling to rehearsals and performances around seven times a week. Not only were his rehearsal demanding but Broadway, widely known to be unforgiving and ruthless, has made no exception for the young Packer student.
“In that kind of world, they don’t do what makes you happy, they do what makes the crowd happy, or what makes you a better dancer, so yeah, it’s really, really strict. The teachers are not very nice, but that’s too bad,” said Ben.
Although his training has undoubtedly helped with the nerves and expectations of performing at a Broadway level, he admitted that at first performing for such large and demanding audiences was certainly daunting. He is one of the first people that the audience sees when the curtains open at the beginning of the show.
Although it seems that with time, and the help of his mother, he has found ways to focus his mind solely on executing his role, rather than the audience.
“What my mom tells me to do, and [what] I do, is kind of try to think in the mind of the character,” said Ben. “Fritz is a little brother who is very naughty, but that’s because his sister is always getting presents and is always getting treated much better, and so I try to be in the mind of Fritz.”
Ben, by fourth grade, has had a huge amount of success in the ballet business. He does admit, though, that it is not an industry for everyone — especially those who don’t deal well with stress.
“It depends on what people like, if they want to be under a lot of pressure and do a lot of hard work, yes. If they want to be chill, no,” said Ben.
Interestingly enough, despite his success at such a young age, Ben doesn’t seem to think that there is much future for him in ballet for his middle and high school years. Although he didn’t seem wedded to this response.
The New York City’s Ballet performance of The Nutcracker played at the David H. Koch Theatre until Dec. 31. In each production, throngs of New Yorker’s and tourists alike were able to catch a glimpse of the “heart-catchingly impulsive, naughty” little boy that Ben so brilliantly played.