Category: TLM

Just Dude It


With warm Western hospitality, well-trained horses, great food and wonderful accommodations, these four dude ranches allow everyone to play cowboy and cowgirl.

Tanque Verde Ranch

Spanish for “green pool,” Tanque Verde designates an expanse of land east of Tucson ascending into the Rincon Mountains. It’s here that this old-time cattle and guest ranch is located.

After a colorful history dating back to the late 1800s, the ranch was acquired by Brownie Cote in 1957. It has remained in the Cote family ever since. Today, Tanque Verde Ranch has 640 acres, leasing an additional 60,000 acres from the U.S. Forest Service for its cattle operation.

Guests can travel back through time and experience the dramatic days of yore in luxury. The ranch offers a variety of lodging options that combine the spirit of the Old West with today’s modern amenities. With an abundance of activities for all ages, there is never a dull moment. Whether a guest seeks to explore the desert and mountains, relax and unwind, satisfy a creative craving, or burn up some energy with a challenging game of tennis or volleyball, there’s something for everyone. Opportunities include spending the morning on miles of exciting horse trails, then winding down at La Sonora Spa. Afterward, guests are invited to head down to Cottonwood Grove for a down-home ranch barbecue experience, and even top off the evening with a cowboy cocktail at The Dog House Saloon.

14301 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ, (520) 296-6275,

Elkhorn Ranch

Fifty miles southwest of Tucson sits Elkhorn Ranch, at an altitude of 3,700 feet. The picturesque Baboquivari Mountains and the open Sonoran Desert terrain of Altar Valley encompass the ranch.

A classic winter season dude ranch experience is provided by the third generation of the Miller Family and their crew. From November to April guests participate in exemplary horseback riding and comfortable living. Most guests stay for a least a week, but many winter visitors settle in for longer stays.

Whether traveling solo, as a couple, or with family, vacationers will find camaraderie, relaxation and adventure around the ranch and on miles of mountain and desert trails.

The Elkhorn Ranch’s herd of around 120 saddle horses, along with breeding stock and colts, graze in large pastures surrounding the ranch headquarters. They are raised on the property or brought to the ranch as young horses. Having learned to live in the rough country, Elkhorn horses are sure-footed and strong — the perfect companions on the trail.


Home-cooked meals are served buffet-style at the Long House three times a day. For a healthy start, guests can order a hot breakfast of their choice. A picnic lunch cooked over an open fire is a weekly treat. Other options include all-day rides with sack lunches or camp cooking. Evening entertainment is casual, with beer, wine and soft drinks available at the ranch office store for guests to enjoy at their own cabins.

27000 W. Elkhorn Ranch Rd., Tucson, AZ, (520) 822-1040,

Circle Z Ranch

The crackle of a campfire, the creak of a leather saddle and rugged vistas without end transport vacationers to a time when days were spent on horseback and nights under the stars. Corralled in Southern Arizona’s Sky Islands, Circle Z Ranch is the oldest, continually operating guest ranch in Arizona. The ranch, located in Patagonia, started as a sheep-herding operation in the 1880s and developed into a dude ranch in the 1920s.

After changing hands several times, Circle Z has been owned and operated by the Nash family since 1976. Mrs. Nash’s many visits to the ranch as a child launched her interest in the facility. The family’s avowed aim has been to run a traditional- style ranch with an emphasis on recreational riding, good food and congenial guests.

Guided by expert wranglers, visitors can explore trails across thousands of scenic acres that have been the backdrops for many Western movies. Back at the ranch, there is the option to partake in other outdoor activities like yoga and hiking, or join fellow guests fireside at the ranch’s rustic lodge.

In true cowboy fashion, meals are cooked from scratch using locally grown ingredients. Circle Z Ranch offers three cookouts each week in addition to their regular buffet-style spread: Monday Steak Cookout, Wednesday Picnic Cookout, and Saturday Chuck-Wagon. After dinner, families can go their separate ways — kids to the game room and parents to the BYOB Cantina where stories from the day are shared and friendships are forged.

1476 AZ Highway 82, Patagonia, AZ, (520) 394-2525,

White Stallion Ranch

What began as a cattle ranch in the 1930s now represents more than 50 years of mindful stewardship of the land and exceptional guest services provided by the third-generation True family. In 1965, Allen and Cynthia True, with two kids in tow, came from Colorado to make the ranch their home. Back then the ranch consisted
of 17 rooms, 17 horses and 200 acres. The Trues didn’t waste any time and soon began purchasing adjacent land as it became available, increasing the ranch to 3,000 acres. Today, the property features 43 guest rooms and a five-bedroom hacienda.

Located at the base of the Tucson Mountains, the ranch has spacious and charming accommodations with spectacular views of the cactus gardens, mountains and corrals. Nightly rates include lodging, all meals and most activities.

There is no shortage of activities to enjoy, including tennis, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, hayrides and shooting. However, the real adventure — the one for which most people visit the ranch

— requires a sturdy pair of jeans and some boots. White Stallion Ranch owns one of the largest private herds of horses in Arizona. Guests can choose from slow rides, fast rides, hayrides and all-day rides. The experienced horse owner, the “first-time” rider and everyone in between can find an equestrian experience to fit their interests and abilities. One unique feature of this dude ranch is WSR’s weekly rodeo, where wranglers, family and friends practice skills with team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping and more. At the end of a long day, guests can enjoy dinner that’s been grilled over an outdoor fire, accompanied by home-style side dishes and a delectable dessert. Evening entertainment can be everything from art classes, to campfire songs, to line dancing.

9251 W. Twin Peaks Rd., Tucson, AZ, (520) 297-0252,

The Light Stuff

Here are a few restaurants that offer small plates and tapas.

BY Sarah Burton
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Thomas Veneklasen

It’s a fresh, new year ahead. We spent the holidays saying yes to rich seasonal flavors, family recipes, and savoring those decadent treats. We’re ready to get serious, buckle down, and clean up our acts a bit. But the food-lovers out there can still enjoy a perfect bite out in local eateries — maybe just scaled down a bit. Here are five local spots where you can enjoy a smaller plate, or lighter fare.

Ginza Sushi

The popular style of dining in Japan known as Izakaya has something in common with Irish pubs and tapas bars. It’s all about gathering with friends and family after a long day to relax and catch up while sharing several smaller dishes. Ginza Sushi offers an Izakaya-style dining experience, with both sushi and classic Izakaya menus.

You can order any of their signature sushi rolls, sashimi, or really go for the full experience and incorporate a few orders from the Izakaya offerings like fried baby octopus, green mussels, pork gyoza, fried Japanese eggplant, broiled mackerel, or even some yamaimo (Japanese mountain potato).

5425 N. Kolb Road, Ste. 115, (520) 529-8877,

The Kimizu (sea bass) at Ginza Sushi is a light entrée.
The Kimizu (sea bass) at Ginza Sushi is a light entrée.
Contigo Latin Kitchen’s Tapas include Pimientos Rellenos, Jamon Serrano, Catalan toast , Gambas al ajillo and Albondigas.
Contigo Latin Kitchen’s Tapas include Pimientos Rellenos, Jamon Serrano, Catalan toast , Gambas al ajillo and Albondigas.

Contigo Latin Kitchen

Contigo Latin Kitchen

You really can’t go wrong with the fresh, bright flavors found throughout Contigo’s menu. Inspired by recipes from South America and Spain, the made-from-scratch offerings span everything from gazpacho and jicama salad to short rib tacos and a beef-and-chorizo burger to die for. But you also can select smaller plates from their tapas menu.

Come with friends and order several to share — as is the traditional way to enjoy a tapas menu. First and foremost, you must start with Contigo’s house-cured olives. Another small plate you’d be remiss to leave out, and one of their most popular, is the one featuring Spanish chorizo-stuffed dates. Go for the carpaccio with a juniper-tarragon vinaigrette, the empanada of the day, or an ever-changing cured meat and cheese platter.

Take special note, with Contigo’s prime real estate on site at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, the view and food go hand in hand. If it is warm enough, aim for a spot on the patio, where weeknights during happy hour you can save money while you sample many of their tapas and other small-plate versions of their regular menu.

3770 E. Sunrise Drive, (520) 299-1540,

Commoner & Co.

On Tucson’s northeast side, Commoner & Co. offers a new take on American cuisine. And although some of their fan favorites could be considered more on the hearty side (think chorizo mac and cheese or flat iron pork), many of their inventive entrées will give you all of the flavor in just a few right-sized bites.

Starters such as plump empanadas, roasted beets with goat cheese, or the goat cheese tart promise all of the flavor and none of the uncomfortably stuffed feelings. Of course, there’s also the classic mussels and fries (here cooked in a Thai curry). Or if you can’t make up your mind, simply let the chef decide for you: The chef’s tile always promises a delectable assortment of meat and cheese.

“We have several great options for smaller plates or tapas, our most popular being the house-made pork carnitas empanadas and brûléed goat cheese tart,” points out Chef Kyle Nottingham. “Sharing small dishes family style is our favorite way to dine, and the best way to get the full Commoner experience.”

6960 E. Sunrise Drive, (520) 257-1177,

The Tasteful Kitchen

Another no-brainer for locales where you can dig in and not feel overloaded, is an eatery dedicated to plant-based foods: The Tasteful Kitchen. Most of the dishes in this modern vegetarian restaurant are vegan and gluten-free, and change seasonally. Fresh vegetable dishes abound here, and many are prepared with little oil or salt.

“After indulging in heavy calorie-laden holiday foods, people are looking for lighter, healthier fare, which they’ll definitely find here,” says Chef Laura Clawson. “Our favorite light appetizer is our spring rolls, which are virtually fat free and very refreshing.”

Greek Yogurt with chai-poached figs (front) and the Café salad are two options for small plates at Café à la C’art
Greek Yogurt with chai-poached figs (front) and the Café salad are two options for small plates at Café à la C’art

Another approach is to follow suit with regular customers, and go for The Tasteful Kitchen’s most popular year-round dish: Miso eggplant. Here, glazed eggplant is paired with coconut black rice and bok choy — rich enough to satisfy during cold months but not make diners feel weighed down when ordered in the summer.

722 N. Stone Ave., (520) 250-9600,

Café à la C’art

Café à la C’art steps up to the smaller plate or lighter fare challenge with their own well-curated style of New American cuisine. Dine inside this historic adobe building, or choose the patio, where you can nosh beneath a shade canopy and twisting vines. You’ll have fun trying to choose from the likes of pork belly sitting atop a bed of roasted Brussels sprouts or a carefully balanced avocado and peach salad, with cotija cheese and fresno chiles.

“For those craving something hearty but light and satisfying, our most popular salad is the grilled flank steak with mixed greens and arugula,” says Owner Mark Jorbin. “It has all the right stuff: heirloom tomatoes, feta, grilled red onions, olives, roasted sweet peppers and crispy onions with a citrus balsamic vinaigrette.” Lighter still, the house salad is another tempting option, a bed of organic greens with fennel, pepitas, roasted peppers, and an herb vinaigrette.

There are plenty of other less-filling choices on the menu of this unique spot, like the grilled salmon served alongside perfect flavor matches of oranges, red onion, greens, fennel and kalamata olives. Whatever you choose, make sure to allow plenty of time to stroll around the grounds, which the café just so happens to share with the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block.

150 N. Main Ave., (520) 628-8533, TL

Jazzin’ It Up

Pink Martini. Photo by Thomas Hornbecker

Jazzin’ It Up

Trombone Shorty. Photo courtesy of UA Presents.
Trombone Shorty. Photo courtesy of UA Presents.
Eric Marienthal. Photo courtesy of Eric Marienthal
Eric Marienthal. Photo courtesy of Eric Marienthal

Cool nights … hot jazz!

With a lineup that includes Pink Martini, Trombone Shorty and Bobby McFerrin, the 5th Annual Tucson Jazz Festival offers something for every music fan, including those who don’t think they like jazz.

For the festival’s Artistic Director Yvonne Ervin, the diverse groups who will be performing in the Old Pueblo Jan. 11-21 represent both some of her long-time favorites and newer discoveries. The lineup also demonstrates how seamlessly this 10-day celebration combines the programs offered by multiple arts organizations to create a wonderful experience for concertgoers.

One of the biggest shows of the festival is Asleep at the Wheel, coming to the Fox Tucson Theatre on Jan. 17. For those who think of this Austin-based group as more of a country act, consider the fact that three of the band’s albums are centered around the music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Wills gets the credit for being the pioneer of country swing, infusing jazz instrumentation (including a horn section) and the soulfulness of performers like Blues legend Bessie Smith, into his toe-tapping sound. Asked about the decision to book that band, Ervin notes, “The Tucson Desert Song Festival and the TSO are bringing in Kristin Chenoweth on that day, so I was scratching my head thinking, ‘What am I going to put up against her that won’t take away audiences from either side?’ I had a little party the last time I was visiting New York City. One of my friends who attended is a journalist and into Dixieland and straight-ahead jazz. He told me that he had seen Asleep at the Wheel at the Rochester Jazz Festival and thought they were awesome. I’m like, ‘Ah! What a great idea.’”

And another awesome concert — on Jan. 16 at the Fox — is the Magos Herrera Quartet, joining forces with Jane Bunnett and Maqueque. Herrera is a singer/songwriter from Mexico City, and Maqueque is a group of Cuban all-star female jazz musicians assembled by award-winning sax/ flute/piano player Bunnett. With a decidedly Latin-influence to the music, the concert is the perfect choice to kick off this year’s Tucson Desert Song Festival.

Ervin explains that she had been trying to bring Herrera to Tucson for years. Another top act that also has long been on her wish list will be here for the festival, too, Trombone Shorty, who UA Presents is bringing to Centennial Hall on Jan. 18. Shorty (whose real name is Troy Andrews), began playing the trombone at age four, attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and has performed with everyone from Lenny Kravitz to Hall & Oates.

Asleep at the Wheel. Photo courtesy of Paradigm Talent Agency.
Asleep at the Wheel. Photo courtesy of Paradigm Talent Agency.

Contemporary jazz icons Groover Quartet (made up of keyboard player Mike LeDonne, saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth) play a show with Special EFX that will include sax player Eric Marienthal and violinist Regina Carter on Jan. 12 at the Fox. Enthuses Ervin, “The Groover Quartet is a band that I used to see in New York all the time. They played at a club that was two blocks from me. One of my favorite tenor sax players is in the band. We’re hoping to get a little tenor battle between the two Erics at the end of that concert. You never know … it’s jazz. Anything can happen!”

A big change this year is that the free, all-day concert known as the Downtown Fiesta (taking place Jan. 21 at various stages) will have a headliner. “We got a grant from Arizona Commission on the Arts, and Rio Nuevo increased their support, so we were able to pay Poncho Sanchez to come in for that. That’s pretty big. That’s going to bring even more people downtown.”

Indeed it will. Sanchez, a Mexican American singer and musician, is a Grammy winner who has worked with such notables as Hugh Masekela, Art Pepper and Tower of Power. But there are many other not-to-be-missed concerts that are part of the festival, including the return of trumpeter Terrell Stafford to perform with pianist Joey Alexander and the Tucson Jazz Institute Ellington Band (Jan. 11 at the Fox). On Jan. 14, singer Kathleen Grace teams up with pianist Larry Goldings for an intimate show at Club Congress.

Bobby McFerrin. Photo by Carol Friedman.
Bobby McFerrin. Photo by Carol Friedman.

Fans of Pink Martini know that this genre-spanning group mixes world music, jazz, and pop together for an irresistible concoction, and pairing them with the TSO increases the fun factor tenfold. You can hear the results at the TCC Music Hall on Jan 19 and 20. And two well-known singers will show off their distinctive styles as part of the festival. Sheila Jordan (with bassist Cameron Brown) will play the Temple of Music and Art on Jan. 19, and Bobby McFerrin, joined by a select group of a cappella singers will electrify the Fox on Jan. 20.

One show with a very strong local connection is Tucson Swings Brightly: The Music of Nelson Riddle (Jan. 13 at the Fox). The enormously talented composer and arranger, who worked with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Tucson native Linda Ronstadt, will be paid tribute in a show featuring Ann Hampton Callaway, Katherine Byrnes, Joe Bourne and Jeff Haskell. Riddle, who passed away in 1985, developed a special connection with Tucson while collaborating with Ronstadt, and Riddle’s family established an endowed chair and library at the UA Fred Fox School of Music.

Ervin marvels at not only the contributions of Riddle to the jazz world (he is credited by many for reviving Frank Sinatra’s career in the 1960s), but also what a huge undertaking the concert utilizing his classic arrangements will be. “It’s quite a production,” she sums up. “We have a full orchestra and a full big band on the stage. I’m still not sure how we’re going to get the singers in. I was teasing Ann that we’re going to drop her in on a swing. That concert is going to be something else.” For more information visit

Riddle Master

Ann Hampton Callaway. Photo by Tom Spitz.
Ann Hampton Callaway. Photo by Tom Spitz.

“My dad was a journalist and a writer, and my mom was a singer, pianist and a voice teacher,” reflects Ann Hampton Callaway. “I really feel that I’m such an amalgam of both of their passions.”

Passion definitely describes how Callaway approaches her many projects, which over the years have included everything for writing music for previously unreleased Cole Porter lyrics, to writing and recording the theme for the TV show The Nanny, to collaborating with such industry icons as Barbra Streisand.

As a composer and singer who is very in-tune with arrangements, she is a perfect choice for headlining a show featuring Nelson Riddle’s work. She laughs about her response when Yvonne Ervin approached her to be part of it. “My reaction was, ‘What part of yes don’t you understand?’ First of all, I’m a huge fan. Every time I hear a great arrangement, I think, ‘Oh
Ann my gosh, who did that? It’s Nelson Riddle!’ Because he studied French composers such as Debussy and Ravel, and had a tremendously rich harmonic sense, along with a beautiful understanding of how to layer instruments, nobody else could do what he did. So many of my favorite records by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt and many others feature his arrangements.”

She can point to a number of works that illustrate her point. “One of my favorite arrangements of his was for ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’ I think he did it overnight. Sinatra was told he should have three more songs for his record. So Nelson said to him, ‘What do you want to have happen in I’ve Got You Under My Skin? And Frank said, ‘Just put a crescendo in there.’ And the excitement in that recording — the sense of when you’re in love with somebody and you can’t wait to be close to them — is just unbelievable to me. Every time I hear it I get excited. I just wish I could have been there at the recording because it must have been such a thrill.”

Her latest album, Jazz Goes to the Movies, features a direct connection to Riddle. “One of the songs was inspired by Peggy Lee’s gorgeous recording of Nelson Riddle’s arrangement of ‘The Folks Who Live on the Hill,’” she reveals. “For Peggy, Sinatra was in the studio conducting the recording. It’s so wistful, and I think it expresses how she felt about the song. It made such an impact on me that my emotional reading of the song is completely based on imagining what Peggy was feeling when she was in the studio.”

As a singer, Callaway marvels at Riddle’s restraint. “Another skill he had, which even some of the best arrangers don’t have a clue how to do, is knowing when to have the orchestra loud, full and rich, and when to get out of the way of the singer so that they can tell the story. So often when I’ve been doing a big band show, the arrangements overpower me, and I have a really powerful voice.”

The concert will mark a reunion of sorts. Callaway will be performing with pianist/conductor Jeff Haskell, whom she has worked with before. “He’s a wonderful pianist, and I’m really excited to be reunited with him,” she says. Another thing that generates waves of enthusiasm for her is continuing to explore Tucson, which she and her wife Kari now call home. “It’s so beautiful here. I’m so happy living in Tucson,” she observes. “Every night I look at the sunset and think, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to write songs based on what I’m seeing.’ It’s so powerful. It’s funny how a place can give you new horizons musically.” For more information on Ann Hampton Callaway visit her website: TL


She Knows the Ropes

MANDIE RAU-DUNHAM IS A REAL-LIFE COWGIRL; fourth generation, in fact. She also has a career she adores, a family she loves even more, eight horses and a very big pickup truck and horse trailer.

According to Mandie, she was a cowgirl from the moment she was born. “I was riding horses when I was in my mom’s belly,” she says with a smile. Her mother Connie was an accomplished barrel racer who often competed in the Tucson Rodeo. “These days mom enjoys the cowgirl life by taking folks on pack trips on her mules.”

Life as a rodeo kid guaranteed Mandie had a full schedule, a lot of horse-related chores and many great friends. She went “pro” in 1986 at the age of five and regularly rodeoed as a member of the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association.

Growing up in her rodeo family also offered some convenient perks. When Mandie was a youngster she helped her grandparents, Curley and Joyce Clark, produce rodeos for the Law Enforcement Rodeo Association (LERA). She also became a regular at Clark’s Arena, her grandparents’ popular roping venue in Marana. She fit right in and participated in area rodeos, and also helped her grandparents at LERA events with scoring and secretarial duties.

When Mandie attended Marana High School, she was an active member of high school rodeo her freshman year. Then she took a break from that activity and joined the volleyball, basketball and softball teams. Much like other dedicated athletes, she “loved the diversity” of experiencing other sports. She remained a member of all three teams until she graduated in 1997. Next stop was Yavapai College and Pima Community College, where rodeo became her primary sport again.

Two years later, Mandie pivoted to a new goal: becoming the Tucson Rodeo Queen. Earning this title had everything to do with horsemanship and the ability to communicate the history and importance of the Tucson Rodeo. Mandie nailed the horsemanship competition and was first in impromptu speech and modeling. The judges easily declared her the 1999 Tucson Rodeo Queen, and she proudly represented La Fiesta de los Vaqueros at other Arizona rodeos, as well as various events and schools.

Her next big move was in 2002 when she enrolled at the University of Arizona, where she competed as a member of the UA rodeo team. Academics, however, were her priority, and she earned a degree in Equine Science and soon after was offered a position at the UA Campus Agricultural Center on Campbell Avenue. “An important part of my duties there had to do with keeping livestock safe and secure,” she explains. Recently she was reassigned to the UA main campus, where she now works as a veterinary technician/research specialist.

Mandie Rau-Dunham leads the flag team at the Tucson Rodeo. Photo by Jennifer Vimmerstedt.
Mandie Rau-Dunham leads the flag team at the Tucson Rodeo. Photo by Jennifer Vimmerstedt.

Home for the Dunham family is a five-acre ranch in Avra Valley. Husband Chip and 11-year-old daughter Jacie share the chores and embrace the day-to-day realities. “Horses are a lifestyle for sure,” says Mandie with a grin. The property also accommodates the family’s eight horses, four chickens, three dogs and occasional four-legged guests. During the school year, Mandie and her family welcome horses and livestock owned by the University of Arizona’s rodeo team members. “She opens up her home to let us practice with her any time we need to,” says Sarah Nelson, a member of the UA rodeo team. Mandie is the team’s assistant adviser and chief cheerleader.

Like generations of cowgirls that came before her, Mandie’s daughter Jacie is blossoming as a barrel racer and roper. She competes in events sponsored by a local barrel-racing club and, of course, mom is her idol and mentor. Mandie also is the club’s director and helps coach other young members, as well. “I’m really involved in keeping kids active,” she adds.

High on the list of her achievements are her continued contributions to the Tucson Rodeo. She is a genuine star at the annual event, especially with the young girls in the stands who love horses and dream of being just like her.

Tucson Rodeo’s general manager Gary Williams sums up Mandie’s contributions to the annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros best. “For more than 20 years Mandie has played an integral role in creating the high level of production value we strive for at the Tucson Rodeo. From our opening ceremonies, through sponsor flag presentations, to our winner’s circle runs, to our closing ceremonies led by Mandie and her daughter Jacie, we can always count on her for a big smile to the crowd and an inner toughness to do her job regardless of the circumstances. Mandie’s a cowboy — that’s the highest compliment I can give anyone.” — Joan Liess

The 94th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson Rodeo is Feb. 16-24. Visit for information.

Holiday Gift

The Sugar Plum Fairy (Megan Steffens) and her Cavalier (Vasily Boldin) in the Grand Pas De Deux.


Holiday Gift

Each year Ballet Tucson, the community’s resident, professional ballet company, presents a full-length, traditional version of The Nutcracker that is the perfect way to open your seasonal celebrations.


This is the big kick off to the holiday festive season,” says Mary-Beth Cabana, founding artistic director to Ballet Tucson. She is speaking, of course, about the company’s annual production of The Nutcracker, which is much more than just a time-honored ballet. It’s an experience, with so much to delight the senses that it’s nearly impossible to take it all in from just one performance. Immortal music? Check. Amazing classical choreography? Check. Story that appeals to all ages? Check. And Cabana points out another reason why her company’s production of this seasonal favorite is not to be missed. “Because of the dancers who are new to the company or who have just recently joined, the bar has been raised on the quality of the dancing. We have quite an extensive roster. The last time I counted it was something like 24 states and three countries represented. There are 33 people in the professional company now, 19 women, eight men and seven apprentices.”

Among the newer faces to watch, she points out Shannon Quirk, who was the principal ballerina for Madison Ballet for seven years. “She’s a huge asset,” notes Cabana, “and I think she’s going to be lovely in some of the featured roles in Nutcracker.”

Other dancers who are making names for themselves include Vasily Boldin, originally from Russia, who has been with the company the last two seasons; Isaac Hawkersmith, who was with the Carolina Ballet for five seasons; Jake Howard from Ballet Austin; Tim Coleman from the Rochester City Ballet; and Kaitaro Kodama, most recently with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, who Cabana says is, “young but has a lot of potential.”

Sugar Plum Fairy (Jenna Johnson)
Sugar Plum Fairy (Jenna Johnson)

With phenomenal dancers such as Jenna Johnson still leading the way, the company is benefiting greatly from this mix of seasoned pros and exciting new talent. “There’s a lot of rejuvenation with the existing dancers and excitement in the ranks because there’s some new energy there, some new blood, and I think that’s healthy for everyone. The dancers are all working super hard and at the top of their game.”

But The Nutcracker is about so much more than showcasing the talents of skilled professional dancers. It’s one of the few ballets that welcomes youngsters into its charming narrative. “In doing this full length version of the ballet, we try to keep the joy and wonder of the holiday season reflected in our production, and to highlight the fact that we have a high level of professional dancers in our company, but it’s also really a child’s story,” says Cabana. “It’s about beauty, joy and wonder being shown through the eyes of a child. We incorporate a lot of children from the community in the production. It’s really the one time of the year where it feels really appropriate to have a good number of kids in the cast.”

Some of those kids may never grace a dance stage again. For others, it’s the first step in a long, but rewarding journey. “We’ve always prided ourselves on preparing children at the level that they’re ready to dance, making the rehearsal process a really fulfilling experience for them, and teaching them to do even the most simple things in the production to the very best of their ability. We want them to take pride in that, and to understand that one day some of them who are being little mice and angels in the production can end up being the Sugar Plum Fairy. In our history, we’ve had that happen.”

Many times, the gorgeous music of Tchaikovsky and the holiday theme of the story are what lures audiences in to see the ballet. But once they’ve experienced it, they are hungry for more dance performances. In the case of Ballet Tucson, there are two crowd-pleasing concerts lined up to follow The Nutcracker. On Feb. 1-3, 2019, the company presents “Viva Piazzolla!” a tribute to the great Argentine composer that is part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival. The concert will be a collaboration with the Tucson Guitar Society and The Rogue Theatre, and will incorporate music by the Bandini Chiacchiaretta Duo, vocals by Carlos Zapien, and dances choreographed by Cabana and Chieko Imada.

Clara (Sierra Bogner)
Clara (Sierra Bogner)

In the spring (Mar. 8-10, 2019), the ever popular Dance & Dessert returns. The action-packed program will include the premiere of an adaptation of La Dame aux Camélias, which was the source for Verdi’s opera La Traviata. In this case, the music will be by Chopin, and Ballet Master Daniel Precup has created the choreography that tells the dramatic story of “the fallen woman.” A big highlight of that concert, too, will be the third ballet by George Balanchine that the company has done — Donizetti Variations. “We’re really excited because not every company in the United States is granted permission to do the works by Balanchine, so we’ve reached a certain level of achievement on a national level,” explains Cabana. “This particular ballet is a feather in our cap because there’s normally a progression of ballets that [the New York City Ballet] presents to you in a certain order, and this is one that they give you a little further down the line.” The performance also will include some little dance gems so that audiences will be able to enjoy — much like the scrumptious array of goodies that will be available after the concert — a satisfying variety. TL

Ballet Tucson
The Nutcracker

TCC Music Hall
Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9, 1 p.m.

For more information visit

About Us

Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is Tucson's only glossy, monthly city magazine, targeting Southern Arizona’s affluent residents. With over 35 years of publishing experience, Tucson Lifestyle is committed to showcasing the people, places, local flavors, and attractions that make our city unique.

General Information

Phone: 520-721-2929 x 102
Address: 7000 E Tanque Verde Rd # 11,
Tucson, AZ 85715

Latest Posts
  • Garden Calendar

    Garden Calendar

    March It’s time to get your garden ready for the burst of spring growth. PLANTING Plant color annuals after mid-month such as zinnia, periwinkle, globe amaranth, verbena and portulaca. Sow seeds for warm-season vegetables: okra, melon, squash, corn and cucumbers. …
  • Fins to the Left … Fins to the Right

    Fins to the Left … Fins to the Right

    Despite being located in the desert, the Old Pueblo sports exemplary seafood in restaurants all over town.  Here is a tasty sampling of dishes at some popular spots. Written by Kimberly Schmitz | Photography by Thomas Veneklasen Firebirds Wood Fired …
  • A Wall-Executed Plan

    A Wall-Executed Plan

    This project began with a need for privacy for the homeowners and turned into an award-winning full-on renovation. By Debby Larsen | Photography by Colin Catron Allen Denomy of Denomy Designs tackled multiple challenges for this landscape renovation at a …