The sweet thing about “The Nutcracker”: New holiday memories keep getting made each year. There will be children this holiday season who will be welcomed for the first time into the glittering world of the Sugar Plum Fairy and adorable dancing bonbons. These children are getting their start on a holiday tradition they will remember for decades to come. (And once they’re all grown up, their own children might do the same thing.)
Three major productions highlight the Fresno-Visalia “Nutcracker” season. Two are this weekend. In Fresno, the longtime Valley Performing Arts Council production featuring the Sacramento Ballet and Fresno Ballet Theatre brings its 11th production to Saroyan Theatre. And Visalia’s Theater Arts Alliance, which performs at L.J. Williams Theatre, returns for a second season after last year’s big debut.
Fresno’s other big production, the Lively Arts Foundation version featuring the Central California Ballet, performs Dec. 10 and 11 at Saroyan.
All three productions use recorded music.
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Here’s a rundown.
Fresno Ballet Theatre
The production: The Sacramento Ballet travels with 37 professional dancers to Fresno to kick off its annual “Nutcracker” season, which it will then take back to Sacramento. The company will team up with 100 student dancers and performers from Fresno Ballet Theatre hailing from 16 cities in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Cast member spotlight: Mia Chennault plays Clara; Isabella Garcia plays Fritz.
Something to know: This production is dedicated to the memory of Karyn Jakobs, 39, who died in October after a long battle against a rare form of cancer. Two of her daughters, Eva and Olivia, are dancing in “Nutcracker.”
“Our ballet family remembers her bringing her daughters to the studio every week,” says artistic director Yukari Thiesen. “In the waiting room, she brushed their hair into ballet buns, then quietly sat in the waiting room until classes were over. Even in her last days, she wanted her daughters to go to ballet classes and the rehearsals.”
Theater Arts Alliance
The production: The Visalia company brings together several guest artists with a cast of 100 dancers from four local dance schools. This is the production’s second season. (A lesson learned from last year: “Stage snow is not cheap, and we use a lot of it!” says producer Lim Forgey.)
Cast member spotlight: Keira Bixler plays Clara, and Katie Peters plays Fritz. Three guest artists are featured: Carly Caviglia, a student at Syracuse University, is the Arabian soloist; LeAnn Medina of Visalia’s Elite Dance will dance the Sugarplum Fairy; and Holly Hoffman plays the Snow Queen.
Something to know: “I like that our production leaves the audience wondering if the whole experience was a dream for Clara in the end,” says director/choreographer Rachel Thompson. “She wakes up on Christmas morning seeming to have been dreaming, but there are parts that carry over to keep you guessing if it was a real, magical experience for her, or simply an enchanting dream.”
Central California Ballet
The production: Long a staple of the holiday season, the Lively Arts Foundation’s “Nutcracker” in December will feature more than 100 cast members from three dance schools making up the Central California Ballet.
Cast member spotlight: Professional guest artists are Alexsandra Meijer and Ryan DeAlexandro, both dancers from the recently shuttered Silicon Valley Ballet. On the local front, look for David Bonetto, director of “New Wrinkles,” as a new Herr Drosselmeyer. Ashelea Okayasu and Rylie Brunson share the role of Marie (this production’s version of Clara), and Jack Hammerstrom and Liam McCullar share the role of Fritz.
Something to know: Over the years, the Lively Arts version offered a more “purist” version of the “Nutcracker” ballet going back to the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story, with a greater emphasis on the Mouse Queen. But with Shirley Winter and Carla Lippert stepping in last year to co-direct the show, the Mouse Queen has seen her role diminished somewhat. But look for her: She’s still there.
Fresno Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’ with Sacramento Ballet
- 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
- Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St.
- ValleyPerformingArtsCouncil.org, 559-442- 5699
- Ticketholders can participate in Sugar Plum Story Time and visit the Kingdom of Sweet Cafe and The Nutcracker Boutique starting at noon prior to both performances.
Theater Arts Alliance’s ‘The Nutcracker’
- 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
- L.J. Williams Theater, 1001 W. Main St., Visalia
- brownpapertickets.com, 800-838-3006
Central California Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
- 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 2 p.m. Dec. 11
- Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St.
- www.livelyarts.org, 877-608-5883
- Sugar Plum Party: After the Dec. 11 matinee, $12 per child