New spirit for ‘The Nutcracker’

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    Local ballet group invites charity and school groups to attend performances free of charge.

    By Caroline Thomas /Special to The Malibu Times

    “Arabesque. Arabesque. Tour jet. Now watch your port de bras.”

    These instructions are what countless prima ballerinas around the world are hearing over and over again as they rehearse for their yearly installment of “The Nutcracker.” Malibu’s own rendition will return to Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre for five shows beginning Friday.

    JoAnna Jarvis, owner of Ballet Studio by the Sea and executive director of the Malibu Civic Ballet, is focusing on a new spirit for this year’s performances. The company–whose ages span from 8 to 71–is inviting several charitable organizations and city school groups to attend this year’s performances free of charge.

    Co-director Laura Behr, who has danced with the Joffrey Ballet, says, “Even before September 11, we were feeling like it was time to reach out and share what we love. Dance is so healing.”

    The Friday and Sunday shows will culminate with exclusive backstage events where expected celebrity attendees will include actors Ta Leoni, Gary Sinise, A. Martinez and local New York Ballet star Zippora Karz. Special guests from the Starlight Foundation and the Free Arts Clinic will mingle with the dancers and stars.

    It is hoped that a special guest performer will be able to dance: 16-year-old Beth Miller from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She has recently returned to the hospital and worried that her spot would be given away.

    Behr says, “When the company promised to keep Beth in the cast, her numbers [vital signs] went up. We knew this was right.”

    Pacific Palisades’ dancer Ariel Phillips will star as the Dew Drop Fairy. Now 17, she began dancing with the company at age 3. She has appeared in “The Nutcracker” in a cheerful array of roles–as an angel, candy cane, snowflake, flower, marzipan and party girl. She is now an accomplished young woman in a featured role.

    Sophie Silna, a 3rd-grader from Webster Elementary School, hopes to have the coveted role of Clara some day. For now she’s excited about her role as a Mother Ginger Girl.

    “It’s hard to fall asleep the night before,” said Silna. “My stomach feels like it has butterflies in it.”

    Athena Denos, 9, started at age 2 with Mommy and Me classes. Denos, who plays a Gingersnap, says, “I want to be a ballerina, but it would be a hobby, sort of.”

    Another topical change the directors chose to make is to remove any ethnicity references. “I was watching the news one night and I saw a map that said Arabian Sea,” said Behr, recalling “The Nutcracker’s” references to Chinese Tea, Arabian “Kaffee” and Spanish chocolate. The troupe decided it would be best to drop the ethnic delineations, given the current world climate.

    Three professional dancers will round out the cast.

    Jarvis boasts, “We have some very good amateur dancers here,” but the seasoned performers add “the needed professional pacing and emotional maturity.”

    At the end of one of many rehearsals with Malibu’s local performers, Phillips hears, “That’s it! Perfect!”

    Praise from ballet mistress Jarvis … just what every ballerina wants to hear.

    Performance days and times are Dec. 7, 8p.m., Dec. 8, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Dec. 9, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. For more information call 310.506.4522.