Center Stage

Olga Cronin

All eyes will be on Alisha Finch in December as white mice swarm around her and whisk her away.

The sophomore from Hendersonville, Tenn., will be playing the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” presented by the Nashville Ballet at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

“The Nutcracker” is about a young girl, Clara, who receives a Nutcracker doll from her godfather on Christmas Eve. Clara falls asleep and dreams she is captured by white mice. In her dream, Clara is saved by the Nutcracker.

The fantastic dream, revealed by the ballet dancers, takes the audience to countries like Spain, China and Russia and to imaginary places like the Land of Sweets.

Nineteen-year-old Finch will disguise herself as the young Clara. Despite her physical appearance, Finch thinks she identifies with the young character.

“She’s a spaz, and she’s really giddy and hyper,” Finch said, giggling. “Everybody says I play that part really well.”

She will play her role alongside the cast of 200 children, ages five to 15, and the other 30 characters who are over 19.

The role of Clara is split between Finch and another woman. The two alternate performance nights.

Ballet has been a part of Finch’s life since she was three.

Finch’s mom, Erika, said she always wanted to dance, but was never able to. She grew up in the German countryside and there really weren’t any dancing opportunities for her. She said she gets to watch her daughter live out her dream.

“Tears well up in my eyes whenever I see her dance,” she said. “It is kind of overwhelming sometimes to watch her. I feel very proud of her.”

But Finch hasn’t always been the graceful ballerina that can be seen on TPAC’s stage this holiday season.

Once, during a performance of Swan Lake, Finch was supposed to take a graceful turn, then extend her arm out gently — she did everything but that.

“I hit this guy in the face next to me, and his nose started bleeding,” she said. “I had to go on. You have to go on, but I wanted to laugh so bad.”

Despite 16 years of experience, Finch said she still gets nervous before she pirouettes onto center stage.

“I’ll be nervous the first night,” she said. “I’ll be off-stage and getting ready to go on when I’ll think ‘Oh no’ and draw a blank. Then I’ll just go out, and I’ll have to do it.”

But about three years ago things didn’t go that smoothly.

“I got sick all over,” she said, laughing and blushing. “I had to change my shoes because I had gotten sick all over them. Everybody was wondering why we were started five minutes late.”

Since the auditions in October, Finch has driven to Nashville for a two to four hour practice session every day. This hectic practice schedule, on top of her 15 hours of classes, has taken its toll on Finch at times.

“It takes a lot of time. It’s hard,” Finch said. She is a print and photojournalism double major.

Finch said although the Nashville Ballet company is more flexible than the company she danced for in Seattle, there are still some rules she must follow.

“We have to stay a certain weight for a certain height, or they’ll yell at you,” she said. “For example, I’m 5-foot-7 and a half, so I’m supposed to weigh 120 pounds. I’m 121.

“They’d say things like, ‘You better come down some,'” Finch said, rolling her head back and laughing.

But it is all worth it to Finch.

When she was younger, she said all the girls at practice would look and stare at the main dancer — the prima ballerina.

“Everybody wanted to be her,” Finch said.

Now she is the one everyone is looking to.

“To me, I think ballet is a way of art,” she said. “You take every little piece of your life and put it into your dance.”

Elizabethtown freshman Angel Forrester said she is very proud of Finch. The two women have been friends for about a year.

“I think it is just beautiful the way she expresses herself,” Forrester said.

Another of Finch’s friends, Louisville sophomore Jodie Alberhasky, said Finch is very dedicated to dancing and said she has often caught Finch practicing in her room.

Although she might be the prima ballerina, Finch doesn’t act like one. With an equal passion for photography, she steps out of the eye of the audience and slips behind a camera to catch glimpses of others.

“I’ve always liked to take pictures, ” she said. “I’ve actually shot a lot of dancers and productions. I guess it’s because I know what I’m looking for.”