Let the Christmas alchemy begin — beautifully costumed dancers swirling to Tchaikovsky’s music, in one of the world’s most beloved ballets. Beware: The splendor of “The Nutcracker” can awaken the wonder of childhood in adults.
Napa Regional Dance Company brings the enduring enchantment of the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s holiday ballet to Napa audiences this weekend for four performances, beginning Friday night.
This year’s performance, Napa Regional’s 12th “Nutcracker,” will be in the smaller Napa Opera House rather than Lincoln Theater, the Nutcracker’s home for seven years.
The opera house stage is closer in dimensions to the Polk Street studio, where students take classes. So in a sense, dancing on this stage should be easier for them than the enormous stage at Lincoln Theater, according to Regional’s director, Wanda McGill. She relocated this year’s ballet to the Opera House this year after the Lincoln Theater closed a year ago.
“The dancers are ready to have a more intimate and up-close relationship with the audience this year,” McGill said.
The Opera House seats 450. The Lincoln Theater seats 1,214. In anticipation, McGill has been making adjustments in choreography to fit the dimensions of the Opera House’s Victorian stage for months.
There will be more dancing and fewer props this year and four performances instead of three. “The dancers are excited about dancing more,” McGill said.
To accommodate the smaller stage, the number of dancers onstage at one time must be reduced. The role of the grandparents, portrayed by lifelong thespians Jean Marie Wolf and Michael Caldarola, has been eliminated but the doting duo is still around, ready to bring humor to other roles — she as the sophisticated Auntie Ginger, who has “a thing for Drosselmeyer,” and he as Herr Drosselmeyer, the magical toymaker who gives Clara the Nutcracker.
“All of these performers have given 100 percent to this production,” McGill said. “I am very proud of how they step up each year to do their very best.”
Last year’s Nutcracker received standing ovations from packed Lincoln Theater audiences for their brilliant performances. The thundering applause was also in recognition of the obstacles that McGill and the cast overcame when they had, at the last minute, to move performance dates ahead a month because the theater was closing due to its financial woes.
The change in dates created many problems, but McGill, the cast and their supportive families never considered abandoning “The Nutcracker.”
“It was great that the community fully supported our date change and filled the Lincoln Theater,” McGill said. “We were proud to be the first local classical ballet school to both open and close with the Lincoln Theater.”
Rehearsals for this season’s “Nutcracker” began during the summer. The cast has had an extra month of rehearsal this year.
“The Opera House was very welcoming to us,” McGill said. “I knew that I would have to change things. I have used all the prior months to restage and structure the ballet. We have all dedicated ourselves to making this season’s performance just as lovely and memorable (as in other years).
“I love that it is all local talent, something I think our town should be proud of as well,” McGill continued. “We have managed to present this full-length ballet without having to ‘hire out’ the dancers. We love keeping the tradition alive. It is great to see the dancers grown and learn new parts each year.”
Days before Nutcracker’s annual holiday performance, the excitement on the faces of the young dancers during rehearsal is palpable.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 2 years old. I really like dancing in ‘The Nutcracker’ and I’ve met so many new friends here,” said Danica Blix, 7, who performs as a porcelain doll, angel and cookie.
Taylor Ito, 9, performs in four roles. “My favorite role? It is a tie between cookie and soldier,” Ito said. “I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old. This is my third ‘Nutcracker.’ It is really fun.”
Older cast members, dancing on their toes in pale pink point shoes, mirror the eager anticipation of their younger cast members. Three young women in Marzipan roles talked about their history with the annual performance.
“I have danced many roles in the nine years I have performed in ‘Nutcracker’: porcelain doll, party girl soldier, cookie, mouse, peppermint, rat, Chinese, Spanish, flower, snow and Nutcracker. This year, I have five roles and will wear five different pair of point shoes,” said Elizabeth Wright, 16.
Hannah Miller, 13, played the lead role of Clara last year. “It took a lot of work and practice to play Clara. Even though Clara is a big role, what I’m doing this year is harder,” Miller said. ‘Everyone is working harder because younger children have come in and the older dancers are gone – there are no seniors now.”
Teagan Behlmer, 13, has a long history with Nutcracker and practices six days a week. “Ballet is really a fun experience and teaches discipline. It really clears your head. It is all you can think about when you are dancing.” Behlmer said.
McGill wants to keep surprises for the audience so revealed only a few roles: Gianna Troppy, 11, performs Clara; Asher Chudnow, 8, performs Fritz; Katie Suh, 15, performs the Sugar Plum Fairy; and Gareth Scott performs the Cavalier.