Written by Lucida Fu and Greta Hoffman. Cover photo: Eric Raeber
The buzzing of nerves and anticipation spread in the wings of the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center on December 15, opening night, as dancers prepare to perform in Menlowe Ballet’s It’s A Wonderful Nutcracker. As they adjust pointe shoes, hairspray their flyaways, and calm last-minute jitters, dancers are moments away from getting on stage and performing in front of hundreds.
This production of the Nutcracker departs creatively from the original story, taking a creative detour through the landscape of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. In the opening, a wintery ice skating scene, Drosselmeyer, Clara’s uncle in the traditional Nutcracker is presented as a downtrodden alcoholic, down on his luck, alone and on a bench. Drosselmeyer’s character is parallel to the Jimmy Stewart character in the 1946 black and white film. Associate Artistic Director Sarah Jane Measor explained, “We have always embraced the traditional Nutcracker and we wanted to combine the two stories. ‘It’s A Wonderful Nutcracker’ has universal themes that everyone can identify with that examines the human spirit.”
From there on, the traditional Nutcracker story, with its journeys through the world, including France, China, Spain, Russia, Italy, does not visually disappoint with its strong cast of professional dancers. A highlight of this production, another departure from the traditional story, is the professional ballroom couple Chelsea Farrah and Eric Koptke, who transform the stage into a spectacular whirlwind of sweeping glamour, complete with sparkling jewels.
Menlowe Ballet is a professional ballet company that produces shows every fall and spring. For many of the dancers, both students and professionals, performing in the Nutcracker every year is a holiday tradition.
Although it is a professional company, the students of Menlo Park Academy of Dance have the opportunity to dance alongside the dancers of Menlowe Ballet. Measor believes that “offering the students of MPAD an opportunity to augment their training and study of their chosen art by performing with Menlowe Ballet is very important.”
For student dancer Storie Lynch, the most exciting part is “when [her] parents and family come to watch” her each year. This year, Lynch dances multiple roles, including the winter park role, and snowflakes. Dancing so many roles in addition to preparing for semester finals, Lynch is stressed about managing the two, but excited to be on stage and perform.
“I’m most excited about the performance aspect,” said Katherine McLaughlin, who will dance the roles of Tommy, the younger brother, snowflake, Chinese, and flower among professional company members. Because she has so many roles, McLaughlin said that she’s most worried about “retaining the choreography under pressure and being nervous.”
Among the youngest of the student dancers are Hailey Feldman and Abby Wolf, who share the role of Janie, the youngest family member. Wolf explained, “I’m really excited to be on stage with the professional dancers.”
The Nutcracker is one of a few performance opportunities throughout the year that Menlo Park Academy of Dance enjoys. Bethany Radford, a freshman at Woodside High, explained, “I like performing in Nutcracker every year because it gives me opportunities to build off of what I’ve already known and it allows me to have more opportunities on stage.”
While the Nutcracker is a beloved tradition among all the participants, it comes at an inconvenient time, the weekend before finals. Radford explained, “I’m stressed about completing homework on time because I know the rehearsal schedule is a lot.” The students rehearse in the M-A Performing Arts Center for around five hours each night during the week leading up to the opening performance to work out spacing, quick changes, and dancing together without the studio’s mirror.