Families help 'The Nutcracker' shine in annual Napa Valley performance

Families help 'The Nutcracker' shine in annual Napa Valley performance


It is time to celebrate the beauty and spirit of the holiday season with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beloved “Nutcracker.”

This classic ballet has been known to rekindle the wonder and excitement of childhood in even the most Scrooge-like audience member, as the story of a young girl’s dream on Christmas Eve unfolds onstage.

An annual tradition, this year Napa Regional Dance Company (NRDC) performances of “The Nutcracker” will be accompanied by Symphony Napa Valley for all three performances at Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater in Yountville: Saturday, Dec. 16, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m.

This is the 17th year the dance company has performed the fully staged, semi-professional production.

“It is going to be very special because Symphony Napa Valley will accompany all performances with the amazing guest conductor, Steven Thompson,” said company executive director Wanda McGill.

“We are proud to present our “Nutcracker” performance with a ballet cast made up entirely of student dancers who have earned the privilege to participate in this semi-professional production,” McGill said. “This year’s production also includes active members from our community who participate each year.”

Student camaraderie was obvious at a recent rehearsal. Many have been studying ballet with McGill for years, and have developed deep friendships with fellow dancers.

Not only is there a feeling akin to family connectedness among the dancers, some people at the rehearsal are family.

Dr. Andrea Wong and her husband Dr. Edwin Chiu are rehearsing with their daughter Maddie Chiu and their son, Miles Chiu. The family will be together, wearing period costumes in the opening party scene.

“I started dancing here when I was 6, and then last year my mom and dad performed with me too,” said 10-year old Maddie Chiu.

“Rehearsals together are also family time for us,” said Dr. Andrea Wong. “It’s fun to be a part of this holiday magic and the music has become a part of our life.”

To help learn their parts last year, Dr. Wong said the whole family watched videos of past Nutcracker performances.

“I had never been to ballet and seen the ‘Nutcracker’ until Maddie did it,” said Dr. Chiu. “It was really fun to watch her. Last year, three of us were onstage. Not Miles, he was watching it, but Wanda invited him to participate this year.”

“I want to be onstage because my parents and sister are in it,” said 7-year old Miles Chiu. “I like the battle scene most.”

Miles said he would not be nervous onstage.

“Miles has been in front of an audience at church before playing his violin, so he isn’t nervous,” said his father, Dr. Chiu. “Maddie also plays violin.”

Will performing in “Nutcracker” together onstage become a continuing holiday tradition for the family?

“We’ll do this (Nutcracker performances) as long as Maddie will allow us to,” Dr. Chiu laughed.

With a dozen years of ballet training under his belt, Emmet Moore, 18, is well qualified to play the role of Cavalier since this is his third year of playing the part.

Cavalier requires upper body strength, technique, hard work and having fun, but the “number one” thing is to be “really focused.”

“When you are going to do two turns, you really need the mind set to keep going and to look graceful. Ballet is not easy,” Moore said. “It is as exerting as any other sport, and yet you have to make it look easy at the same time.”

Though ballet takes serious dedication, Moore said that ballet is “really fun” and that it is a “major part” of his life.

Moore’s advice to anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps is to “start young and work really hard to get top roles in ballet.”

“Or start old and have kids in ballet to bring you into it,” Judd Finkelstein, playfully countered with a contagious laugh.

“My two daughters, Holly and Ruby, and my wife and I are in it,” Finkelstein said. “At one time, my mother was in the party scene.”

Michael Caldarola and Jeanie Wolf are two adults who have added humor to their characters in past years. Caldarola, who performed in “Nutcracker” for 10 years and played Herr Dresselmeyer three times, had retired from the production two years ago — but he is back.

“I told the father of Nicole Martinez that I’d come back if Nicole ever got to be Clara,” Caldarola laughed. “When it became a done deal, I came back. We are having a blast.”

“We’ve been waiting for Nicole to become Clara for years. We’re so proud of her,” said Jeanie Wolf.

Nicole Martinez, 12, who attends St. Helena Montessori School, has been a Napa Regional Dance Company student for eight years. During that time, she has danced almost every part. Clara is her first solo role and she is thrilled to have it.

“I really like dancing and being on the stage is really exciting,” Nicole said

Besides practicing ballet often, Martinez said she watched videos in the beginning to memorize each of the steps during her performance as Clara.

“After watching the video, I’d write it down on a piece of paper and then run to do it,” Martinez said.

NRDC’s ability to bring performances to the stage has been assisted by the support of The Napa Regional Dance Foundation, which raises the funds to bring live symphony music to the NRDC Nutcracker performances, according to McGill.

Tickets are on sale through Lincoln Theater Box Office at 707-944-9900 or online at lincolntheater.org.

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