A sneak peek behind the scenes of Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

“I’m trying to decide whether Drosselmeyer’s mustache is real or fake. It’s too neat to be real, but it doesn’t look fake,” says 10-year-old Ellie Pohlig, who earned a coveted spot as a page in Boston Ballet’s 2014 “The Nutcracker.”

A successful audition is an accomplishment for any dancer, but especially so for Ellie, who has high-frequency hearing loss. This type of partial deafness means Ellie has trouble hearing some consonants and sounds at higher octaves, like a woman’s voice.

“This was my third year trying out for The Nutcracker.” I was nervous at the auditions, but they went well,” says Ellie, who auditioned in a group of 50 dancers. Because Ellie is tall for a 10-year-old and Boston Ballet groups students according to height, there were fewer parts for which she could audition. “That was her main challenge,” confides Ellie’s mother, Bonnie.

Boston Ballet allowed Ellie to audition and rehearse using an FM system. “It helps me understand what the auditioner and teachers are saying. The FM makes it sound like my teacher is very close to me. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to hear her well or understand her words when she is far away.”

Dancing in “The Nutcracker” is not the first time dance has been a turning point for Ellie. “When Ellie was 5-years-old, it was her performance in a dance class that helped us realize she was having trouble hearing. This prompted a hearing evaluation and since then, Ellie has been wearing hearing aids and using an FM system in both school and extra-curricular activities,” says Bonnie.

Margaret Kenna, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, completed the medical evaluation of Ellie’s ears, and Karen Willson, AuD, performed the hearing evaluation. Other Boston Children’s specialists provide speech and language therapy and follow-up hearing tests.

“The Nutcracker” inspires

Ellie has been inspired and awed by other dancers in “The Nutcracker.”

“It’s really cool to see the professional dancers up close. I like the Russian dancers the best because they can jump so high and are really acrobatic.”

Inspiration, however, is a two-way street, according to Katie Prins, coordinator of Outreach and Support Services for Boston Children’s Hospital’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program. “Ellie says she is inspired by other dancers, but she also inspires many people as well with her achievement in “The Nutcracker,” says Prins.

“The Nutcracker,” however, is not all inspiration all the time. There’s occasional embarrassment and pre-teen giggling.

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The Arabian dancers, for instance, may need some costume help. “They just don’t wear enough clothes. The male Arabian dancer comes onto the stage with his back to the audience and facing us pages. He’s really close to us, and we think he should put a shirt on,” says Ellie, sheepishly grinning and laughing.

Despite a grueling schedule with twice-weekly rehearsals and 14 performances, Ellie would love to audition for “The Nutcracker” again. She has set her sights on nabbing a part as the Bear or Bunny. The animal parts are cute, she says.

After the curtain closes on “The Nutcracker,” Ellie will return to her regular schedule: three dance classes a week and a character class, where she learns dances from different countries. She hopes to learn to dance en pointe in 2015, too.

Learn more about Boston Children’s Hospital Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program.