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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Central California Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Nov 30, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

A Holiday Favorite

December 2019
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos courtesy of Central California Ballet

THEATERGOERS DRINK in the dreamlike perfection of brightly clad ballerina flowers dancing effortlessly in synchrony while snowflakes twirl en pointe to the century-old iconic waltzes of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The fairytale ballet, “The Nutcracker,” embodies the essence of the holiday season, capturing the sights and sounds 
of Christmas.

The classic ballet focuses around the dreamland adventures of a little girl named Clara and her Nutcracker doll. The ballet originally debuted in December 1892 in Russia. Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of Moscow’s Imperial Theaters, commissioned the ballet, asking Tchaikovsky to compose the musical component while Marius Petipa was commissioned as choreographer. Based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s fantasy story, Alexander Dumas Pere adapted the storyline, giving the theme a less sinister feel and providing a more child-friendly plot. The ballet’s premier performance was given mixed reviews and did not receive the appreciation nor the following seen today. More than half a century had passed before “The Nutcracker” became a holiday favorite.

The Christmas ballet premiered in America in 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet, but didn’t gain popularity until 1954 when performed in New York City under the choreography of George Balanchine. Balanchine’s unique method, a style still taught at the School of American Ballet, focuses on very quick movements with a greater use of the upper body. The American version of “The Nutcracker” has slight variations from the Russian original, with changes to the storylines and to characters’ names. The prima ballerina in the Russian version of the ballet is named Masha, where the American rendition features Clara. 

Tchaikovsky labored over the composition of the Nutcracker Suite for the majority of 1892, incorporating unique instruments and note progressions. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, one of the most recognizable scores of the suite, features the celesta, an orchestral percussion instrument resembling an upright piano. Some rumors claim that Tchaikovsky’s sister died during his composition of the two-act suite, influencing the melancholy feel of a few of the pieces. The ballet runs shorter than Tchaikovsky’s other operas with a total time of 85 minutes, but stands to be one of his most well-known compositions. Modern movies and advertisements often incorporate excerpts from the Nutcracker suite, music that has become synonymous with the holiday season. 

Ballerinas young and old eagerly anticipate the annual holiday tradition. Prior to being a high school dance teacher for Visalia Unified School District, Kassi Hampell grew up in the world of dance and performed in “The Nutcracker” multiple times. Hampell remembers the beauty and wonder of the enchanting ballet. “The music is comforting and sounds like Christmas. Going to watch the show is always a treat, because although it is a classic and the same story, every company that performs it brings its own unique choreography and magic touch that makes every time you watch it – majestic.” 

The Lively Arts Foundation produces a yearly holiday ballet, bringing in professional talent and joining studios across the Valley under the umbrella of the Central California Ballet. Shirley Winters is the artistic director of the Central California Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” In 1983, Winters began her career as a dance teacher, instructing her students in European styles with influences from the Royal Ballet. Winters prides herself on her unique method of ballet instruction, a style that allows for many body types to be successful in dance. In 2005, Winters opened her own studio on Cedar Avenue in Fresno. “Performing is an exciting and important part of a dancer’s education,” Winters says. “As a holiday classic in the dance world, it is a joy for both dancer and audience.” 

On December 14 and 15, the Central California Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” at Saroyan Theatre in Fresno with two matinee performances and one evening show. Students from various local Valley dance studios, ages 5 to adult, audition every August for an opportunity to perform in the iconic ballet alongside international professionals. Principal dancers Nicolas Gorodiskii and Anna Sophia Scheller are from the Ukraine Ballet. •

“The Nutcracker” • Dec. 14 and 15 • Saroyan Theatre, Fresno
Tickets available online via Ticketmaster • (559) 270-6601
Sugar Plum Party follows Sunday matinee; 
party tickets available by calling (559) 270-3212

 Homegrown in the Valley, Natalie Caudle finds beauty in the mundane and is ever on the hunt for the perfect salsa recipe. A mother of four, this minivan chauffeur is passionate about adoption and strives to perfect the art of balancing grace and grit.