Winter comforts lean toward familiarity: eggnog, dreidels and twinkling lights. Likewise, dance companies try to find that one show that will bring audiences back to the theater year after year. The Nutcracker is perhaps America's most famous ballet for just this reason — Tchaikovsky's stirring themes lend equally to theatrical plot and artistic grandeur. Through holiday shows, directors eagerly introduce their vision to a broader crowd, while showing off their most festive costumes and special effects.
But not everyone wants to perform Nutcracker — and in a studio-dense environment like Humboldt, not everyone can. This year the offerings also include trips to Candy Cane Lane, Narnia and chocolate fountains. How to choose? All seven shows are family-friendly events with familiar themes. So here's a rundown to make your dance selection easier!
If you grew up watching Baryshnikov and enjoy classical ballet, you'll want to catch the Upper Studio's Excerpts from the Nutcracker and Trinity Ballet's A Christmas Star. Both of these studios are serious about their pointe technique: young Harmony Sorter recently returned from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and will be dancing Sugar Plum alongside visiting Cavalier Robert Dekker for the Upper Studio production. In addition to the classical program, the show features Julie Christy Hayes (from Salsa at Six) and Jack Lewis (of Salsa Rueda) as the Spanish duet, and four aerial silk artists in the Arabian. (Friday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m., Saturday Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Redwood Raks. $10. 360-791-4817.)
Trinity Ballet's Greta Leverett is likewise Russian trained, and focuses her instruction on classical yet inclusive ballet. Advanced students may audition for the Youth Ballet Company and winter production, which this year includes 30 dancers, mostly teen and adult. The first act of A Christmas Star features the ethnic dances of Nutcracker; the second aims for a more ethereal and uplifting tone, with solos from Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh as the story journeys to Bethlehem. As the last show of the season, this would be a fitting preparation for the beauty of a midnight mass — or to just celebrate starlight on the darkest night of the year. (Saturday, Dec. 21 at 3 p.m. at the Eureka High Auditorium. $12, $10 kids under 12. 839-1816.)
It's been a challenging season over at North Coast Dance, but the school has remained resilient after the departure of its longtime artistic director, Danny Furlong. Ikolo Griffin was invited back to Humboldt to direct this winter's Nutcracker, after featuring with the company in Gabriel's Garden. Under Griffin, more humor and stage magic are being introduced — including a revamped battle scene with "effects not seen before on a north coast stage." (Each Nutcracker performance is at a different time of day, so check your tickets carefully!) (Friday, Dec. 13 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14 at 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 17-18 at 7 p.m. Tickets at Parasol Arts, Eureka Fabrics and northcoastdance.com. $20, $12 kids under 12. 442-7779.)
If you're looking for more variety in form, you'll want to try Trillium's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Ferndale Dance Academy's Into the Wardrobe, or the No Limits Candy Cane Lane.
Trillium Dance Studios has over 200 dancers, aged 3 to adult — all of whom perform in the annual 'Twas the Night Before Christmas production. Director Erin McKeever is one of the area's strongest contemporary choreographers (translation: more leaping and leaning, less pointe work); contemporary segments by her adult company and teen ensembles are typically show highlights. Act 1 follows those familiar visions of sugarplums, while in Act 2, a playful band of pirates descends on the holiday magic. 'Twas is a revue — meaning all of Trillium's classes are represented, including ballet, Latin and modern — but the segments are tastefully interwoven. Two full acts are a long time to sit, but if little ones can contain their wiggles, they'll likely find 'Twas the most child-friendly performance of the season. (Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at Eureka High Auditorium. Tickets at Threadbare Dancewear and Wildberries Marketplace. $12-14, $8-10 kids and seniors. 822-8408.)
Candy Cane Lane is also a revue, showcasing jazz, tap, hip hop and, recently, ballet. Virginia Niekrausz-Laurent joined the No Limits Dance Academy this fall, adding her ballet expertise to the more competition-based repertoire of Director Stacy Atkins-Salazar. Niekrausz-Laurent contributes three pieces to this winter's production, including a pas de deux. The show opens with a Rockette-style kickline choreographed by Atkins-Salazar, then follows an ensemble of candy characters traveling to the North Pole. Competition-style dances tend to be flashier (and with shorter hemlines) than any of the local ballets; the dances also tend to function more independently, and less as part of a thematic whole, especially when crossing multiple forms. (Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14-15 at 2 p.m. at Eureka High Auditorium. $12, $8 kids 12 and under. 825-0922.)
Ferndale Dance Academy brings Narnia to the historic Winema Theater in Scotia. Into the Wardrobe, an adaption of C.S. Lewis' popular tale, runs about an hour, featuring more than 30 young dancers performing contemporary, classical and musical theater jazz. Instructor Kelsey Snyder directs the Academy's winter show for the third year running. (Saturday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Winema Theater. $10, free for children 4 and under. 496-0805.)
Bellydance & Decadent Desserts harkens back to the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema, with opulence and beauty cascading from the walls. (If you've seen one of Shoshanna's set designs, you'll know this isn't hyperbole.) The Ya Habibi dance troupe will be joined by Rock n' Rubies and local soloists. This event is a fundraiser with more sweets than you would hope to consume. Egyptian, Turkish, Spanish Fusion and Bollywood dances will be performed in the round, circling a chocolate fountain that is accessible for snacking between sets. (Sunday, Dec. 8 from 7-10 p.m. at Redwood Raks. Tickets at Threadbare Dancewear, Wildberries Marketplace and shoshannaland.com. $15 advance, $20 door, $10 children 12 and under. 616-6876.)
But what if you want to dance? Arcata has you covered this month, with both a barn dance and an international folk dance, plus two New Year's Balls (a tango milonga at the Vet's Hall, and a night of ballroom, swing, blues and salsa at Redwood Raks).
The scene kicks off with the First Friday Folk Dance Party on Dec. 6 at Redwood Raks. There's a lesson at 7:30 p.m., followed by a live music party with Musaic and the Crafts Faire Band at 8:30 p.m. Admission is only $5; all ages and levels of experience are welcome.
Friday the 13th is Humboldt Folklife Society's "Lucky Friday" barn dance night, also at Redwood Raks. Beginning at 7:30 p.m., Sue Moon will call a mix of contras and squares, plus English and Irish Ceilidh dances, to the fiddle tunes of Blake Ritter and Sam McNeill. No experience is required, and partners change frequently during sets. Kids are welcome and easily included; Moon is an easygoing caller with a wide repertoire. Admission is $7 general, $6 HFS members.
Want to get elegant? Tango Del Sol presents a New Year's Milonga/Tango Ball at the Arcata Veteran's Hall. Black tie is optional. There will be a free tango lesson from 8-9 p.m., followed by dancing until the midnight champagne toast. Admission is $12 general, $10 students. Bring a beverage and finger food to share.
Redwood Raks is going all out this year, partnering with USA Dances for a New Year's extravaganza. Both Raks studios plus the Arcata Playhouse will house live bands, DJs, mini-lessons and open dancing from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. The evening will begin with ballroom and progress into swing, blues and salsa. Costume is fancy dress in the genre of your choice and admission is $20-25. This event will be more appropriate for adults than children.
If you want to get warmed up before the balls, check out the Redwood Raks schedule for classes in blues, swing and salsa, or tangodelsol.net and dancewithdebbie.biz. There are a lot of instructors in Humboldt eager to help you ease into the social dance scene — because more dancers means more entertainment for everyone. You won't need any instruction to enjoy the folk or barn dances, as long as you can figure out right from left, or are willing to fake it!