For 47 years, dancers at Westside Ballet of Santa Monica have captivated audiences over the holidays with a production of “The Nutcracker,” and the local studio isn’t going to let COVID-19 ruin Southern California’s longest running production of the holiday classic.
Per tradition, Westside Ballet students have selected pieces from the beloved score but this year the performances will be viewed virtually. “Kingdom of the Sweets,” is the official title of the abbreviated 2020 Nutcracker showcase and it’s now available on Vimeo to be viewed by the world for free.
Several beloved characters like the Sugar Plum Fairy, her Cavalier and the Dew Drop Fairy make their return in the online showcase this year. And thanks to the work of a recently formed diversity committee and local students like Samara Koseff and Jasmine Harrison, the Arabian role has been reimagined and recostumed to show greater cultural appreciation, Koseff and Harrison said in an interview this week.
“I think that originally Westside kind of modeled the costume after a lot of professional companies and what they were doing, but when the Nutcracker was originally created it was created with a limited frame of reference,” Harrison said. “But as the world changes and we become more culturally aware of the rest of the world, we realized that we had to change some things.”
Like Harrison, Koseff said she is very committed to social justice advocacy so it was only natural the two joined the Diversity and Inclusive Committee, which is group of student representatives and adults who focus on creating a more inclusive environment at the studio and in dance in general.
“Samarra and I specifically were on the costume part of the committee so we really tried to help give ideas on how we can make the costumes more culturally sensitive,” Harrison said, detailing how there is no longer just a bra in the costume and the pair decided to go with purple as the main color because it represents royalty.
“I didn’t want to be part of something that I didn’t feel like was striving for the right direction, and I have to say it was nice to see how Westside was really receptive,” Koseff said. “They immediately agreed to change the dances and I think they’re much more culturally appropriate; they borrow rather than mimic the culture, and I think it was quite successful.”
Both of the young dancers encouraged residents to head online and watch the different pieces.
“Everyone had such a good time making all of the different pieces, and it’s a really good show of resilience,” Koseff added. “Westside is an organization that is trying to stay afloat during this time and this is a simple way to support the arts.”
“There is no doubt that we have all been challenged throughout 2020, but Westside Ballet was committed to find a way to continue to share the beauty and joy of dance and also provide our graduating high school seniors an opportunity to perform their dream roles,” Westside’s Artistic Director Martine Harley said. “So, until our resilience is rewarded and we can perform again for audiences, we decided to present an abbreviated version of the Nutcracker this year to our community –– and that in itself is reason to celebrate.”