Coffee, peppermint candy canes, chocolate, tutus and Pointe shoes. Sound familiar?
Then you are one of many who have had the privilege of watching a favorite holiday tradition, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. This weekend, Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre celebrates its 10th year of performing the Nutcracker at the Civic Auditorium, a local tradition held together by two dedicated people.
Robert Kelley and Diane Cypher, the artistic directors of Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre, have brought the ballet to life since they took over The Studio School of Classical Ballet in 1998.
“Nutcracker came with it,” said Cypher. “I mean there is no way you can have a successful company without doing Nutcracker in this country because people want to see it. It’s the one thing you can count on.”
For the most part, the choreography and costumes have remained the same over the years; an aspect that adds a quaint familiarity to the ballet.
The Nutcracker gives children the chance to experience performing on a stage, and they learn dedication and perseverance during the six-hour-long days filled with rehearsals. Over the 10-week rehearsal schedule, each company dancer spends around 15 hours per week practicing their roles.
“The older they get in the company they have to give up a lot because we require a lot of hours here,” said Cypher. They give up dates, proms, stuff with friends because every moment they have when they’re not here they’re studying, they’re doing their homework, so they don’t really have time.
“When we were kids, school was easy... they take AP classes. For the most part, we have the really diligent kids with big work ethics so they’re in harder classes, which require more of them. So pretty much they do this and they do school and that’s it. They have to really want to do it. They have to be dedicated.”
Cypher is in charge of the snow scene, the waltz of the flowers, and other scenes that include the older company dancers. Her favorite part about putting on the Nutcracker is “working with the soloists and getting to really coach them and getting them to make something unique out of themselves.”
“It’s the one ballet in a small company, in a small town our size, that we can give them where they can actually, themselves, see a progression. For them, it’s a really great part of their education because there’s something tangible.”
Kelley is in charge of the younger children in the party scene and in the battle scene.
“I love the kids," said Kelley."They continually amaze me. They make it fresh every year. They’re hysterically funny. You know whoever coined the phrase ‘kids say the most amazing things’ could not have been more true…because we’re in here so many hours, and they’re working their hearts out.
“And to see them take ownership of it…you know at the beginning of the rehearsal process, it’s sketchy. They’re silly, they’re goofing around, but by the end, they sense the importance of what we’re doing.
“And I think its important for these kids. That’s the only reason I do it."
Starting from scratch each year can be tedious, and Cypher and Kelley do sometimes find it monotonous, but not of the students or of the teaching.
“I get sick of parts of it, but you know…it’s never the part with the dancers it’s the other stuff,” said Cypher.
Kelley was more perturbed by the logistics of the yearly ritual.
“The part I get sick about is ticket sales because to me it’s one of the most important things that we stay as a healthy organization, but then again it’s the least important thing because it doesn’t matter."
To see everything come together on stage is rewarding for them, but at the same time, they feel somewhat “detached” because as Diane said, “It is out of our hands.”
Kelley sometimes has a hard time watching because he worries about what might go wrong.
“My reason for that is not me. I could care less because the audience is not going to know what the step was,” said Kelley. “But I hate it if something doesn’t go right for the people it doesn’t go right for.
“You know, children, if they go the wrong way, they’ll laugh at that moment, but they know they went the wrong way, and it’s devastating for them. And you know as a company dancer you have everything in there. And if you blew a pirouette, you know you blew the pirouette. The audience doesn’t know you blew the pirouette, but I know that when I go backstage, you’re going to be crying because it means so much to you.”
Each year, the Nutcracker attracts around 5,000 people. The Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre not only brings dance to the community, but it brings in revenue for the city as well.
“What I think is important to me in this effort is it is a community based, it is an absolutely community based weekend,” said Kelley. “The Downtown Asociation joins with us, and we support the Downtown Association.”
As an outreach to the community, Kelley and Cypher set aside 320 tickets this year for various groups of less fortunate people including the Walnut Women’s Shelter, children with disabilities, the homeless, the elderly, and a new addition this year, children fighting with cancer and their families. This gives them the chance to celebrate the holidays without emptying their wallets.
“Why should they not be able to come see the nutcracker?” said Kelley. “We are a part of the community, and we want you to be a part of the community.”
Santa Cruz without the Nutcracker is like Santa Cruz without surfers. It just wouldn’t be right. So thank you Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre for continuing to warm our hearts each holiday season with your elegant and delightful Nutcracker.
“We call it your favorite holiday tradition,” said Kelley. “And I think that’s what it has turned out to be.”
For tickets to this weekend’s performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for and more information on Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre, visit www.scbt.org.