Westside Ballet presents 33rd

Mildred Jarrow Riley in font of her work called "Memories Revisited." The 88-year-old artist began working with digital art as therapy after a bout with breast cancer.

performance of ‘The Nutcracker’

By Gracy Abbott / Special to The Malibu Times

The Westside Ballet is putting the finishing touches on its 33rd annual production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” which will open this weekend at Peppperdine University’s Smothers Theatre. For the past three months, the roughly 100-person dance ensemble, with performers ranging from ages nine to 18, has rehearsed weekly to bring the classic Christmas tale to life.

“It’s a childhood fantasy that everyone can relate to,” said Yvonne Mounsey, Westside Ballet’s cofounder and artistic director.

Mounsey, who was one of the original dancers in George Balanchine’s production of “The Nutcracker” at the New York City Ballet in 1954, said she feels a close connection to the story. Mounsey created the role of Center Spanish, one of the ballerinas in the Land of Sweets, in Balanchine’s production.

“She knows how it should be done,” said Lisa Bernfeld, the production’s marketing director, who added that as a result, the rendition put on by the Westside Ballet stays as close to the original as possible.

“The Westside Ballet is a school, not a ballet company; yet, every year audience members are surprised by the level of professionalism of the dancers,” Mounsey said. “The kids are the ones who keep it fresh. They bring such an enthusiasm to the stage that comes from within. That is what makes our production so special.”

Kira Lavac, a 14-year-old Malibu resident, is staring as one of the candy canes in the play’s Second Act who perform a ballet number dressed in white tutus decorated with red ribbons. “Our students are constantly progressing. Girls that were Clara have moved up to Sugar Plum Fairy, their training is exceptionally good,” Mounsey said.

This year the Westside Ballet will do an extra show on Dec. 9 at the Wadsworth Theatre in Westwood to benefit Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Wilma victims. All proceeds from the benefit will go to Habitat for Humanity, which is rebuilding houses along the Gulf Coast.

The Westside Ballet has a history of reaching out to the less fortunate. Every year underprivileged children and their parents from the Venice Family Clinic and A Place Called Home are invited to see “The Nutcracker.” With its affordable ticket prices, parents are able to bring the entire family to the Westside Ballet and pass on the holiday tradition.

“The Nutcracker” will be performed on Saturday and Sunday at the Smothers Theatre and on Dec. 9-11 at the Wadsworth Theatre. To purchase tickets, call Ticketmaster at 213.365.3550.