‘The Nutcracker’ is magic!

Catherine Scott, Chelsea Cozen and Elizabeth Carvalho wait their turn backstage during dress rehearsal last week. Photos by Cathryn Sacks

Malibu Civic Ballet reaches out to the community through “The Nutcracker.”

By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

For many, “The Nutcracker” is a staple of the holiday season. Opening to a packed audience in Smothers Theater at Pepperdine University, Sunday night’s performance by the Malibu Civic Ballet under the direction of JoAnna Jarvis was without question, marvelous.

“The Nutcracker’s” composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, was a government clerk in St. Petersburg, Russia and had no musical training whatsoever. At age 21, Tchaikovsky was passed over for a promotion, quit and decided to become a composer. In December 1891, the now-successful composer so impressed the Imperial Opera Directorate that he was given a commission to write a one-act opera and ballet for the following season. The ballet was to be based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a selection which Tchaikovsky disliked. Nevertheless, he began work in early 1892 and completed the music later that summer, though he thought it “infinitely poor,” a verdict which a century of ballet-goers continue to disprove. In 1892, the first showing of “The Nutcracker” took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, home of the Kirov Ballet.

With its tight choreography, sumptuous costuming and dramatic lighting, the Malibu Civic Ballet’s Nutcracker retained all the purity of Tchaikovsky’s Russian ballet and made it their own. It was so well executed that when the first act ended, I had to check my watch. Really now, how often does time fly at a ballet? The first act set the stage for what was to be a truly royal treatment of “The Nutcracker.” From the opening Christmas Eve scene, the story moved with amazing attention to detail. The magician (Loren C. Michel), who makes the Christmas tree double in size, also made a panda bear dance for the children, which deserves mention. Catherine Scott performing as the panda did at least 10 pirouette turns balanced on one leg during her solo.

In fact, the dancing was so skillful throughout “The Nutcracker” that it was easy to forget these were children dancing the character roles. Although, to be accurate, some of the lead dancers were in their late teens and early twenties, the majority was quite young. The concentration level of the dancers was quite extraordinary even among the little gingersnap dancers who were very young. The older lead dancers performed gravity-defying leaps and dizzying turns that the audience loved. The dancers with seeming effortlessness moved from one dance number to the next, each one building on the last.

A humorous scene took place when a 12-foot tall white-wigged Mother Ginger (Kevin Montgomery), with a huge silk hoop skirt (and a moustache), moved flirtatiously onto the stage. Mother Ginger looks like a parody of an 18th century courtesan. As she pranced to center stage she seductively lifted the edge of her skirt and out of the skirt came nice little “Gingersnap” dancers (Taylor Colby, Tessa Cossentino, Gabriella Grahek Makenzie Murdock, Allison Palmer. Sabrina Parra, Kyra Source and Flora Tennent). Mother Ginger then insisted on the audience clapping and keeping time while her little Gingersnaps performed. It was almost burlesque in its comic element and the audience loved it.

This “Nutcracker” marks the 26th year the production has been presented by The Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society. And this year had a very special performance. These performances included a “Wish Child,” Daisy Colburn, who fulfilled her dream to dance through the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the “Tea” for all performances. This is all part of an outreach program organized by the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society. The society, whose mission is to reach out to surrounding communities to those who may not be able to experience the art of dance, now provides dance scholarships and performances for many charitable events. In December, dancers performed at Shriners’ Hospital, for the Epilepsy Foundation and for approximately 1,000 disadvantaged children through the Dance Outreach Program at Pepperdine. Dance Outreach Coordinator Lisa Simon has worked on this program for four years.

“These children came to Malibu and we told them the story of ‘The Nutcracker,’ gave them a performance and then showed them intricacies about putting on the production,” Simon said. “These girls work so hard and it’s so good for them to be able to see how children that would never get the opportunity to see this ballet react to their performing for them.

“The whole idea is to reach out to those that aren’t as privileged as the kids in Malibu who take these lessons. It’s a different type of lesson for our kids and they learn from it as well,” Simon added.

More information on the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society can be obtained by calling 310.317.0634. For Dance Educational Outreach information, contact Lisa Simon at IRKDM3@aol.com or 310.457.6411.