Sweets will swirl, snowflakes will glitter and toys will spark to life in a show comprising the fantastical dreams of Clara and a dream come true for the students of the Westside School of Ballet.
The company’s 48th production of the Nutcracker will mark the cast’s triumphant return to the Broad stage after the pandemic relegated last year’s show to a pre-filmed performance in the school’s outdoor studio.
After a nearly two year artistic drought the whimsical holiday show is set to dazzle. For the students this is a thrilling opportunity to showcase their hard work to a live audience and for the community a delightful chance to reimmerse themselves in the enchanting world of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
“It’s everyone’s favorite season in the ballet, the energy in the studio is bright and exciting and everyone loves performing at the Broad, it’s just so special to all of us,” said cast member Catia Boucher, who is a student at Samohi and has been dancing at Westside since she was eight.
The show has a long and storied history both in the world of ballet and at the Westside School.
The Nutcracker is an essential training ground for any aspiring professional dancer at Westside, as according to Artistic Director Martine Harley it prepares students with the same rigor and professionalism required to perform at any major ballet company.
Many ballet luminaries have passed through the program such as Lucia Connolly, who is now performing at the renowned Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. Connolly trained at Westside from the age of five where she literally grew up dancing the Nutcracker, passing through the roles of Clara, Lead Candy, Center Mirliton, Snow Queen, Lead Spanish, and Dew Drop Fairy to reach many ballerinas’ ultimate dream — the Sugar Plum Fairy.
This year the prized role will be performed by former Samohi student Daniella Zhou. Zhou is a protégé of the Westside School of Ballet and danced there for nine years before being offered a place with the Pre-Professional Division at Miami City Ballet for their 2021/2022 season.
“She was very torn about cutting her time short at Westside Ballet because she would have gone through all the leading roles and finished up with Sugar Plum Fairy,” said Harley. “I said ‘it’s okay we’re going to make it happen, you’re going to come back and dance Sugar Plum and that way you will have your crowning achievement’.”
Harley is a product of the Westside Ballet herself and made her stage debut in the Nutcracker. She performed the role of Dew Drop Fairy in the 1980 production and went on to have a celebrated career in the Houston Ballet.
Harley has added her own touches to the show since taking over as artistic director in 2013, such as altering some of the cultural dances, like the Arabian and Chinese dances, to be less stereotypical and more authentic.
For example, last year she studied traditional Chinese fan dances and used this research to re-choreograph the Chinese tea dance.
The Westside Ballet’s rendition of the Nutcracker always strives to balance tradition with the modern moment. Much of the choreography is retained from the company’s original 1973 staging, which was itself a close rendition of iconic choreographer George Balanchine’s Nutcracker.
Westside ballet co-founder Yvonne Mounsey trained under Balanchine and created the Nutcracker role of Center Spanish during the peak of her career as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. It was Mounsey alongside co-founder Rosemary Valaire who started the Nutcracker tradition at the Westside Ballet.
Though much of the choreography remains the same, Harley adapts the show year to year to reflect the needs and talent of the current students.
For example, this year the Angel Trio has been replaced by Catia Boucher performing as a Solo Angel, which will provide Boucher her first opportunity to perform a solo in front of a live audience.
Additionally, the Russian dance has been re-choreographed to showcase the artistry and athleticism of three exceptionally talented Santa Monica ballet dancers Jesse Dean, Sawyer Jordan and Dylan Weinstein.
“The Russian dance has always been an audience favorite,” said Harley. “We are so proud of our advanced young male cast members, who train tirelessly––over 25 plus hours a week––and have mastered the exuberant Russian dance to a level usually reserved for one professional guest soloist.”
Jordan is currently a ninth grade student at Samohi and has been dancing at Westside since he was five.
“I think it’s really fun to be a part of something so widespread, because schools all over the world are doing Nutcracker yearly and it really brings the holiday spirit to everything,” said Jordan. “I think it (the Westside’s staging) is very different from all the other Nutcrackers, because it uses the whole school and everyone of all ages, different levels, and backgrounds… they don’t just look for who they need, they make sure that there’s a spot for everyone.”
Harley said this tradition stems from the core principle of the Westside Ballet — that everyone is welcome. Unlike many other ballet schools, there are no auditions required to join classes at the Westside. Similarly any student age nine and above who wants to be in the Nutcracker is welcome and encouraged to take part.
“Every child that wants to study ballet can walk through the door and be trained in our curriculum and that is something that’s always been unique to Westside Ballet and is very special,” said Harley.
The Westside School of Ballet is closely integrated with the local community and relies on sponsorships from Santa Monica individuals, organizations, and businesses to fund productions like the Nutcracker and offer scholarships to students. Some of these groups include the Santa Monica College Public Policy Institute, The Huntley Hotel, Lyft Scooters, Urth Caffe and Morley Builders.
This year’s Nutcracker will take place on Nov. 27 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.; Nov. 28 at 1 p.m.; Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m; and Dec. 5th at 1 pm. The Broad Stage is located in the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center at 1310 11th St. Tickets are $50 and may be purchased online at www.westsideballet.com or by calling 800-595-4849.