As it has for the last 42 years, “The Nutcracker,” a classical ballet by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, has come to vibrant life in Santa Clara under the artistic direction of Santa Clara Ballet Association founder Josefa Villanueva-Reyes.
“I’m so happy and very pleased with the work all the dancers have done. The happiest moment of my life is when I see them on stage,” said Reyes, who danced the opening role of Frau Silberhaus in the December 12 and 13 afternoon and evening performances at the Santa Clara Convention Center Theater.
“The Nutcracker” often the first–and sometimes the only–ballet that children see, opens at a lavish Christmas party given by Herr and Frau Silberhaus and their children, Clara and Fritz. One guest, Dr. Drosselmeyer, is a toy maker who brings wondrous toys for all the children at the party, including a nutcracker for Clara, his godchild.
Then in the still of the December night, long after the guests have gone, Clara wanders sleepily back into the room, searching for her nutcracker. The toys come magically to life, amazing Clara with their dramas and dances. Clara journeys through a Winter Forest with the Snow Queen and King to the Kingdom of Sweets, where she meets other magical beings.
The prized role of Clara was shared by Sophia Anderson for the afternoon performances, and Samantha Schmidt in the evenings; both dancing the part in a shared velvet party dress.
“I feel pretty nervous, but we rehearsed well so I feel confident, too,” said Anderson, a fifth grader from Santa Clara before the first performance.
“I really have to take this opportunity and make the most of it. I hope to continue studying ballet with Mrs. Reyes. She’s a great teacher,” said Schmidt, a fifth grader from Monte Sereno.
The role of Clara is a stepping stone to more advanced roles. Santa Clara High School sophomore Catherine Klicek made her solo debut with the company as Clara when she was eleven. This year, she danced en pointe in hard, flat-toed pointe shoes in multiple scenes, including roles in Spanish Chocolate and as the Rosebud in the Waltz of the Flowers.
“We have to work really hard and practice more than ten hours every weekend for eight or ten weeks, but it’s an amazing experience,” said Klicek, whose mother, Molly Barber, danced in the opening party scene.
In “The Nutcracker,” the student dancers, who train throughout the year at the ballet school in Santa Clara (www.santaclaraballet.com), dance side by side with professional dancers such as Russian-born Mikhail Guz. Guz, who also teaches ballet, danced the part of the Nutcracker Prince and the acrobatic Russian Trepak.
“Most of the dancers are students. It’s great to see how they become like professionals,” said Guz. “I love this Russian production. This is my blood, my life, my soul.”
Tchaikovsky’s two-act ballet, one of the beloved musical traditions of the Christmas season, was written in 1892 and is performed around the world. Its American premiere was in 1954 at the New York City Ballet, with neo-classical choreography by George Balanchine.
“The kids, the dancers, inspire me to keep doing ‘The Nutcracker’ even if I’m tired. I’ll continue to do it as long as the city [of Santa Clara] and others will help to subsidize the production,” said Reyes after the Saturday afternoon performance.
Santa Clara Ballet Company Board of Directors president Dennis Mullen (who played the roles of Dr. Drosselmeyer and Mother Gigonne (with eight little clowns hidden under her oversized skirt) pointed out that ticket sales cover but a small portion–perhaps 35 percent–of the costs of the production. The non-profit (501c3) ballet company is dependent on donations from individuals and grants from the City and corporate sponsors for funding. Volunteers donate their services.
“This ballet company is Santa Clara’s hidden jewel,” said Mullen.