There’s always room on the stage for one more mouse in the Santa Clara Ballet Association’s production of “The Nutcracker,” the classical 1892 Russian ballet scored by P.I. Tchaikovsky that has charmed audiences around the world over the years, appearing as if by magic during the Christmas holidays.
But it’s no magic. Auditions and weekend rehearsals began in September for the 2017 cast of 50 dancers, which includes six San Francisco Ballet professionals. Backing the dancers is a volunteer crew of 30.
Guided by artistic director Josefa Villanueva-Reyes, the Santa Clara Ballet, founded in 1973, presents its 44th “Nutcracker” production Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the Santa Clara Convention Center Theater.
“It’s a magical fairy tale with roles for every age—whether mischievous mice or adorable Clara,” said Mariko Gjovig, whose daughter, Sabrina Lee, now 13, started as a four-year-old Angel and is a Party Girl this year.
“The Nutcracker” is the tale of a young girl named Clara on Christmas Eve. When she falls asleep after a family party, her toy nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince, who guides her through the enchanted Winter Forest to the Kingdom of Sweets, with fanciful adventures along the way.
“Our Nutcracker is open. This is a community ballet, so you don’t have to attend our ballet school to perform in it,” said Board of Directors member Molly Barker, dancing as a Party Guest. Barber explained that room will be made on stage for any dancer able to make the commitment of time and money.
“Mrs. Reyes can make anybody look good, modifying choreography to suit the dancers and make them shine,” said Barker.
Although the role of Rosebud in “The Dance of the Flowers” is usually performed by a professional, 15-year-old Melody Williams will dance the advanced part for one performance.
“It’s a really great achievement,” said Barker.
On a rehearsal Saturday in November, the small Santa Clara Ballet School, 3086 El Camino Real, was bursting. A table and chairs were set up outside on the sidewalk. Missy Kim helped her daughter, Betty, into a Party Girl dress. Moms sat waiting as their children rehearsed inside.
San Jose resident Sylvia Heslin was doing warm-ups on the sidewalk. A part of the Santa Clara Ballet family since 1996, she outlasted her son, who performed just a few years.
“Being here in the ballet class makes me feel joyful and happy. Even though I’m an adult, I’m offered the same opportunity as pre-professionals,” said Heslin, cast as a Party Guest. “It doesn’t come natural for me, so I have to practice. But if I work hard, there’s no limit just because I’m an adult.”
In the cramped lobby, a costume rack was in one corner, and parents sat on chairs lining two walls. Young costumed dancers awaiting their rehearsal scenes lounged on the floor, playing video games, doing homework, chatting.
Volunteers make and maintain all the costumes, refitting them each season for the next mice or Clara. One costume is about 25 or 30 years old. A 15-year-old tutu has had three bodices.
“We sew in the lobby or take the sewing home,” said wardrobe mistress Debbie Hassy. “I have very talented seamstresses.”
“The Nutcracker” music played in the studio, where students were performing their dances from the two-act ballet, repeating scenes until Reyes was satisfied with performances. Other dancers were on the sidelines, ready to leap into action. Parents crowded around taking photos with their phones.
“I don’t have to motivate my two daughters. They love it,” said Sunnyvale mom Devika Kapur. “It’s a time commitment—and money—for sure. But it’s well worth it. They learn a lot more than just dancing. They learn discipline, focus, concentration, time management.”
“My kids are into STEM, too. Math, science and ballet is what they’re doing. It’s a complete package for Silicon Valley,” said Kapur. “It’s an all-round education because you don’t want to have just a one-sided development. ‘You have to have strong academic backgrounds so you can fund your ballet and the arts later on,’ I tell my daughters.”
Galyna Klymenko’s daughter, Yaroslava, whose first role was an Angel, is dancing the coveted role of Clara.
“It was always her dream to be Clara,” said Klymenko. “Mrs. Reyes says every Angel dreams about being Clara one day.”
Klymenko, who was born in Ukraine, mentioned proudly that Tchaikovsky’s father was Ukrainian.
“‘The Nutcracker’ is part of our heritage,” said Klymenko. “But it’s more popular in the U.S..”
Tom Flynn will dance as a Party Guest alongside his daughter, Isabella, a Party Girl for the first time.
“I love it because my daughter loves it. If she wants me to do it, I’m 100 percent willing,” said Flynn. “I really respect the studio. Mrs. Reyes is known in the community. She teaches the discipline of being a better dancer. She could have stopped a long time ago, but it’s really about giving to the kids.”
The nonprofit Santa Clara Ballet Association (www.santaclaraballet.com) depends on community sponsorship, including a $10,000 grant from the City of Santa Clara in 2017.
“We’re struggling more to get funding. It’s hard to get people thinking about the arts in Silicon Valley,” said Barber. “The interest is in STEM.”