A Tough Nut to Crack

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Deborah La Gorce Kramer, president of the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society

For the first time in 27 years, there won’t be a Malibu production of the holiday ballet favorite, “The Nutcracker.”

Deborah La Gorce Kramer, president of the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society that organizes the annual festive show, said, “Nutcracker” is an extraordinarily involved classical production that’s become too expensive to put on without more financial help and support from the local community.”

“It costs more than $50,000 per production and it’s been a

struggle,” she added.

The Malibu “Nutcracker” tradition began 30 years ago with Joanna Jarvis, who ran a prestigious ballet school in the area, Ballet by the Sea. There were more than 150 children then, comprising five companies in the middle to high school age groups who were serious students of dance. Those companies provided dancers for “Nutcracker” productions.

Students had to audition, but the successful ones got to rehearse and perform with professional dancers taking the principal roles. High rents forced Jarvis to close her school 10 years ago. The Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society has since struggled to find permanent, affordable premises to rehearse and train its classical ballet dancers.

La Gorce Kramer hopes Malibu City Hall will get involved in helping find a new rehearsal space, possibly an empty retail space in the Malibu Civic Center.

In place of “The Nutcracker” this year, the MBPAS and Malibu Friends of Music presented Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at Pepperdine Smothers Theater this week.

The opera was less expensive to produce than “The Nutcracker,” with many of the professional artists involved volunteering their time and talents. There were two performances rather than the “The Nutcracker”’s usual four.

The production featured members of the Malibu Coast Chamber Orchestra (MCCO), Malibu Coast Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Malibu Civic Ballet, the Dance & Shape Company, Independence Dance Company, Pepperdine University, Malibu High School and Malibu Playhouse, and was conducted by Scott Hosfeld, music director of the award-winning MCCO.

La Gorce Kramer, a former costume designer for film, said, “We don’t just need a Chamber of Commerce in Malibu, we need a Chamber of Culture helping the arts. Given the volume of residents involved in such disciplines, you’d think there’d be more support and a performing arts center here.

“The ‘Chamber of Culture’ that produced ‘Amahl’ is an example of what is possible in our community. Keeping local arts alive and relevant is one of the foundations of a truly vibrant city, but requires a stable, affordable facility to nurture sustainable growth,” she added.

Despite this year’s void, Malibu could still get its “Nutcracker” back.

“We have the dates at Pepperdine Smothers Theater booked way ahead,” La Gorce Kramer said. “If we hadn’t put on ‘Amahl’ in place of ‘The Nutcracker,’ we would have lost the theater for good for those December dates. We’ve been putting on ‘Nutcracker’ for five years, without access to a proper studio.

“My hope is that ‘Nutcracker’ will be revived and maybe reinvented in a way that will be more collaborative, like this production of ‘Amahl.’ We need more sponsorship, more tickets bought and more participation from parents of young dancers who understand the value of classical ballet. Maybe we do it differently, have a reduced ‘Nutcracker’ formula and use volunteer professionals instead of paying them.

“We have some great professional dancers in Malibu who are eager to get a dance program going again.”

One thing has never changed. The same Christmas tree used for the first Malibu ‘Nutcracker’ is still good to go.