The Birmingham Ballet’s annual holiday production of “The Nutcracker” is really going to the dogs. This year, their “Mutt-cracker” performance, featuring 29 canine dancers, included a standout performance from a dog named Pig, a three-year-old border collie mix who suffers from short-spine syndrome.
Although some 46.3 million American households own dogs, few are quite like Pig. She was born with her shoulder bones fused to her head, making it appear as though she doesn’t have a neck. She is one of only seven dogs in the world known to have short-spine syndrome.
Despite her handicap, Pig danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in full tutu dress, alongside her human ballerina aide Katherine Free. In fact, it’s Pig’s second year with the company.
“She has been working on her pirouettes since last year, and she’s gotten them pretty well,” Free said, “especially if you offer her bacon-chicken strips.”
Over two dozen other dogs, many of them rescues, were cast for the one-night-only show that played to a nearly sold-out crowd last Friday. Among them, a black Great Dane filled the role of the mysterious magician Uncle Drosselmeyer, and a team of pugs looked reliably adorable, if not especially acrobatic. A portion of proceeds from the ticket sales went to benefit the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.
Although Pig is something of an Internet celebrity — her Facebook page has more than 100,000 likes — she still had to overcome a fair amount of stage fright to prepare for the role.
“She is so easily startled because she can’t move her head at all; her head is fused at her shoulders,” said Pig’s owner, Kim Dillenbeck. “So for her to come to a place that has lots of noise and stuff is very difficult.”
Nevertheless, her performance was a smash success, as were all of the dogs.
“They give so much to the stage and project to the audience more than you might think,” Free said of her canine co-stars. “It’s amazing to see them grow from even their rehearsals to being on the stage.”
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