Even holiday traditions get shaken up now and then. If you’re a longtime fan of the Lively Arts Foundation’s annual December production of “The Nutcracker,” you’ll notice some changes in this year’s show, which runs this weekend for three performances at the Saroyan Theatre.
Lively Arts artistic director Diane Mosier named longtime “Nutcracker” creative-team members Shirley Winters as artistic director and Carla Lippert as co-director of “The Nutcracker.” (Mosier, who for many years directed the annual show, which is performed under the umbrella of Central California Ballet, remains as producer.) Winters, of Shirley Winters Ballet, and Lippert, of California Arts Academy, represent two of the major ballet studios in the Fresno area.
Other community participants are dancers from In the Spotlight Dance Center and from studios in outlying areas (Porterville, Tulare, Kingsburg and Visalia), as well as choreographers from Fig Garden Dance Studio and Fresno City College.
We caught up with Winters and Lippert via email to talk about this season’s festivities.
Q: Can you explain the leadership transition for Central California Ballet’s “Nutcracker”?
Winters: Diane Mosier was looking to cut back on her duties involving “The Nutcracker,” and we thought between the two of us, we would give it a try. We share the load, each using our individual talents to benefit the overall production.
Q: Shirley, tell us about your background with this “Nutcracker.”
Winters: It began about 19 years ago with my daughter Terra when she was about 8 years old. I have had many students in it over the years as well as in the other local productions and choreographed Spanish Dance and Waltz of the Flowers in the most recent past.
Q: Carla, how about you?
Lippert: I began to work with Diane about 10 years ago. Diane asked me to assist her as director. I had many students involved as well as my own children over these 10 years as well as choreographing the snow, battle and party scenes.
Q: Tell us about the changes in the show.
Winters: The biggest change is in the role of Marie. She will be an older, more accomplished dancer. Her character will develop more into a young lady as the story progresses, all the way through to Act II and the end. She has a close relationship with her Uncle Drosselmeyer, who also leads her through her magical dream. There are additional roles as well. You will have to come and see what we have in store for you!
Q: Tell us a little about this year’s Marie and Fritz.
Lippert: We are asking a lot more from the role of Marie (played alternately by Hunter Mikus and Kiara Actis). She begins as a young girl and throughout the party scene, discovers that she is maturing past the age of “baby dolls” and is intrigued by this strange Nutcracker doll. You could say her feelings of love are awakened at a certain point in the party scene. I don’t want to give too much away. Fritz (Liam McCullar and Kenton Lang) is pretty much the same. He is the typical brother that vexes Marie, but they do have a certain tenderness toward each other.
Q: What can we expect this year from your guest professional dancers?
Winters: We are very happy to have Nikki White and Ethan White return to the roles of Snow Pas de Deux as well as the Arabian Dance. They are wonderful and will bring excitement and awe to both roles. This year’s Cavalier and Sugar Plum are Gregory DeSantis and Megan Terry, principal dancers from the Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Opera Ballet. I have not seen them perform, but I’m sure they will bring excitement and professionalism to our production.
Q: Any amusing “Nutcracker” stories to share?
Winters and Lippert: One year, our creative Mouse Queen inserted a cartwheel into her exit in the Snow scene. We also had a huge “snowball” fall onto the dancers during the Snow scene.
Q: Why do you think “Nutcracker” has become such an enduring holiday tradition?
Winters and Lippert: It is a great community event in just about every city. The media and marketing have helped a lot. Also, the music, Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score is everywhere – in malls, on the radio, TV, in homes so many are familiar with it. It is an intriguing story as well. The Hoffman original is not so child-friendly, but with those parts omitted, it has a great appeal.
- 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13
- Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St.
- 800-745-3000, www.livelyarts.org
- Sugar Plum Party after Sunday matinee will feature appearances with guest artists, as well as favors, cookies and punch for the children.