Tuesday, December 07, 2010

California Ballet Does “Nutcracker” for 43rd Season

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Even professional football players use the ballet, “an art form started as a classical court dance in Europe during the Renaissance in Europe and was originally performed in palace ballrooms,” says Joseph Shumate, 31, executive assistance of the professional California Ballet Company of San Diego.

For its 42nd season, the company will perform the famous Tchaikovsky Nutcracker ballet from Chula Vista to Poway in December.

“The heart of ballet is movement and grace,” Shumate explained in an exclusive interview.

“Classical, romantic and contemporary ballet each have slightly different styles. Our company has a focus on the classics, but we can absolutely use contemporary music and dance — even jazz. Most ballets today are pulled largely from the romantic era.

“France’s King Louis XIV transformed ballet from a court dance for everybody in the palace ball-room to the performance art on stage that we know today.” Shumate said. The king was a nimble ballet dancer for 18 years and established the Academie Royale de Danse. Ballet terminology today remains in the French language.

He discovered ballet at the age of five while watching The Nutcracker starring Soviet expatriate Mikhail Baryshnikov. “Ballet dancers have a short lifespan as dancers. Most retire before ago 40.”

Contrary to the popular stereotype, many male ballet dancers (danseurs) are not Gay. Indeed, “Many professional, football players from the NFL actually take ballet classes in order to get the agility, to be as nimble as possible and get some of their muscles built up for their games,” Shumate re-ported.

On stage during a ballet performance, dancers often walk with their toe first. “When you think of grace, you think of ballet,” says Shumate.

“By walking (across the stage) toe to heel, the dancer conveys that special sense of grace and lightness; being able to almost float across the stage,” he explained.

“Walking (ordinarily) heel-to-toe is a heavier feel. Walking toe to heel gives the impression that the dancer is gliding across the stage.”

Male dancers had historically dominated Western theatrical ballet dancing until the 19th century. Then the ballerina has become the undisputed star of the ballet stage. George Balanchine, one of the most famous 20th century choreographers, famously said, “Ballet is woman.” But male dancers increasingly claim their fair share of attention from both choreographers and audience.

“The ballet is a discipline that makes me feel beautiful as a man,” says California Ballet professional dancer Mauricio Vergara, 22, of San Diego. “It’s something that not everyone can do.”

In the future, ballet companies are expected to enlarge their repertories and expand the technical possibilities of their dancers, both male and female, coming a long way from the early days as royal entertainment in the court of Louis XIV of France.

The Nutcracker (1872)

“The Nutcracker is probably the most famous ballet” in America, says Regisseur Denice Dabrowski (choreography). “It’s a classical ballet about Christmastime and has been done (by California Ballet) for 43 years. Over 100 dancers are involved, from professionals to children.”

It cost $200,000 to $350,000 to produce in all countywide venues, with over 400 performances be-fore more than 600,000 in the past. Much of the California Ballet Company’s annual expenses are covered by income from the Nutcracker shows each year, due to its enormous popularity, especially among children and the military.

The Nutcracker story starts at a Christmas Eve party where one of the guests, Uncle Drosselmeyer, gives his niece, Clara, a wooden nutcracker he had carved. Jealous, her brother, Fritz, grabs it and breaks it.

Suddenly, the room is filled with mice and toy soldiers led by her nutcracker. A terrible battle occurs but Clara saves the nutcracker, who is really a handsome prince.

He takes her on a journey through Snowflake Forest where they are greeted by the Sugarplum Fairy.

Some of ballet’s most famous variations are then performed, including Russian, Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances and the beautiful Waltz of the Flowers.

The Sugarplum and her Cavalier dance a pas de deux (dance for two) for Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. In California Ballet’s version, the entire Kingdom wish Clara and the Prince well as they go on to other adventures.

Countywide Ballet Venues

The California Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker at the Poway Center for the Arts on Dec. 11 and 12; and at the San Diego Civic Theatre on Dec. 18, 19, 20, accompanied by the San Diego Symphony. The 8 p.m. show on Dec. 18th will be especially dedicated to active-duty military.

Discounted tickets are available. Go on-line at www.californiaballet.org, or e-mail at: tick-ets@californiaballet.org, or call the box office at (858) 560-6741.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or leopowerhere@msn.com

Photo caption:

Professional ballet dancer Mauricio Vergara, 22, performs a split en l’air while rehearsing at the California Ballet Company facility in San Diego. Photo by Leo E. Laurence