The Sugar Plum Fairy (Megan Steffens) and her Cavalier (Vasily Boldin) in the Grand Pas De Deux.
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.
BY SCOTT BARKER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ED FLORES
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.”
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.
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
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 www.ballettucson.org.