For the past 45 years, the Santa Clara Ballet has thrilled local fans with its annual performance of The Nutcracker, but this season’s performance had an extra special twist. This time the ballet company invited some of the school’s alumni back to participate in the beloved holiday ballet.
“It’s like a family reunion,” said Rheanna Giardina, who until Sunday had not danced in 10 years. “I was raised here. I left to raise my own family, but when the call came…we wouldn’t miss this opportunity for the world.”
“It was like she never left,” said Jerico Erolin, who remembers watching Giardina dance before they got married.
Giardina was one of nine alumni to join the cast of The Nutcracker on stage for its Sunday performance. Dozens of others, some of whom flew in from other parts of the country, were in the crowd to enjoy the show and celebrate the dance company’s 45th anniversary.
During the curtain call, the dancers honored Josefa Villanueva-Reyes, who co-founded the Santa Clara Ballet with her husband Benjamin Reyes in 1973. Benjamin died many years ago, but the couple’s son Andre Reyes was also there to take a bow.
“I have my dancers here,” said Villanueva-Reyes, looking around the stage with pride. “Three…four generations [are] here.”
“I had a really good time,” said alumna Carla Wilson, who performed in multiple shows. “I started with Santa Clara Ballet as an adult and then I danced here with my daughters.”
“It was like coming home,” said 52-year-old Laura Sefchovich who had not danced in seven years. “It was amazing. It was great to feel like a ballerina again.”
This is the first time alumni have been invited back to perform in the show, but Santa Clara Ballet’s Board of Directors thought it would be a great time to do it.
“We’ve got to do something to celebrate, it’s our 45th anniversary,” said Board Member Missy Kim with a grin.
“I haven’t been in touch with my alumni for a very long time,” said Villanueva-Reyes. “When I thought we were going to have our 45th anniversary, I reached out. They never knew they were going to be able to do it again.”
The alumni trained every Sunday for eight weeks. Giardina says it was a lot harder than remembering how to ride a bike, but it came back to her.
In addition to alumni, many students from the Santa Clara Ballet School were part of The Nutcracker cast. The lead roles were performed by professional dancers, a few of whom attended the school in years past.
Villanueva-Reyes served as Artistic Director for The Nutcracker and danced as Frau Silberhaus, while her son Andre Reyes danced the part of the Mouse King.
For Villanueva-Reyes, it was a dream come true.
“I really felt like the most important thing that happened is that all of us [were] there,” said Villanueva-Reyes.