By JACKIE MOE
It’s opening night of Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ annual production of “The Nutcracker” and the young dancers of the American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School are more ready than ever before.
The ballet program’s students have worked tirelessly every weekend for the past three months for the opportunity to join the prestigious American Ballet Theatre troupe on stage in one of the most beloved holiday traditions.
Rising star ballerina Misty Copeland and Russian dancer Daniil Simkin will lead the opening night cast, with plenty of exciting cast rotations during the 13-performance run through Dec. 17. Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky and set to the timeless score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the music will be performed live by the Pacific Symphony.
Returning dancer Chase Rogers, 13, who performed in the annual production since the theater opened at the Center in 2015, said working alongside the ABT dancers has been a dream-come-true.
“It feels really magical in a way, when the company comes and we’re rehearsing; the whole process feels exciting, because it’s the great ABT and there’s nothing like it,” said Rogers, who is from Ladera Ranch.
The ABT William J. Gillespie School follows the ABT national training curriculum, a ballet program designed specifically for children ages 3 and older that promotes discipline, creativity and encouragement to aspiring dancers.
The students began rehearsing in September; taking weekly notes in their “Nutcracker notebooks” said the program’s dance mistress Sarah Jones.
“The kids are so dedicated to the production. I’ve had the pleasure of working with them every weekend and they just take it so seriously. They come to every rehearsal focused and driven; they’ve all had a Nutcracker notebook where they take notes and write down all of their corrections and everything they’ve learned,” said Jones.
After several months of rehearsing together, the students were joined by the ABT troupe this week to do final rehearsals and prepare for opening night.
“All of their hard work has really paid off, and it really showed last night when the kids got to finally work with the company. They were so well-rehearsed and prepared, and they just fit in with the professional dancers.”
Chloe Presa, 13, will return to her role as a toy soldier in the mystical war scenes of the production. She said working with ABT has also been a fun challenge.
“I feel really lucky to be a part of this tradition because it’s with ABT, which is one of the best ballet companies in the world,” said Presa, who is from Anaheim, “It’s been really inspiring working with the professional dancers.”
The production will present two rotating casts that tell the classic story of the curious Clara and her prince as they journey through a magical world of characters and holiday adventures.
Rogers will perform as the Prince in this year’s production.
“When I first started, I was younger and I didn’t really know what was going on. I was very new to the whole Nutcracker schedule and what was required. This year, I know the ropes a lot more,” said Rogers.
“It feels very good to know that someone in the next five years will be wearing that same costume and doing what I’m doing. I’m playing a principal part with ABT and hundreds of people are coming to watch, so it’s all amazing.”
Jones said the set is “stunning” with a tree that actually grows and lifts Clara at least 12 feet above the stage. The second act will open with a large golden gate over a blue backdrop that is “beautiful and memorable.”
Jones added that Ratmansky brings “a new take on an old tradition” which will show Clara and the prince seeing an older version of themselves.
“Clara and the prince are actually transformed in this production. In many versions, the two will sit on the stage and observe in act two. But in this show, the story is really magical; there’s even some moments of unexpected humor.”
“ABT is not a new organization; it’s been around for 76 years and they’re one of the top ballet companies in the world. You’re not going to get the whole experience at any other production of ‘The Nutcracker’ like you do with ABT, with the set, choreography, principal dancers…it’s a very developed and beautiful show.”
AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE: THE NUTCRACKER
WHERE: Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
WHEN: December 7 – 17, 2017
Thursday – Friday at 7 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.
Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday – Friday at 7 p.m.
Tickets – Start at $29
Phone – 714-556-2787