Thanksgiving is upon us and with it comes the beginning of the holiday dance season. Living behind the Redwood Curtain does not preclude us from enjoying the classical arts with four seasonal ballets, three of them including renderings of that old chestnut, The Nutcracker. Thanksgiving weekend brings the first, a revival of the Nutcracker Ballet Virginia Niekrasz-Laurent presented for over a quarter of a century as artistic director of Redwood Concert Ballet.
Ten years after her controversial dismissal by the RCB board of directors, Niekrasz is restaging Humboldt County's original production of this classic holiday ballet. The concert showcases current dancers of her school in Eureka, The Dancers Studio, along with alumnae reprising past roles. Professional guest dancers Cindy Ricalde, a Fortuna local who started with Virginia at age 6 and went on to dance for many companies including the Joffrey and Ohio Ballet; and Charles Torres, veteran of many San Francisco companies, will be performing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.
The performances take place at Redwood Raks in Arcata, a utilitarian dance space more accustomed to the likes of modern and other genres that do not demand the breadth of a classical ballet production. Virginia's dancers did a kicking version of the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" there earlier in the year, not a bit daunted by the less than opulent surroundings. Positive response from that performance, along with the many alumnae dancers coming home for Thanksgiving, inspired Niekrasz to recreate her past work. Sunday's matinee is especially important; proceeds benefit the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project. Niekrasz's close friend Frieda Kosack Estrada died of ovarian cancer a few years ago; Frieda's daughter Karina is doing a guest appearance as Mother Ginger with the youngest children in the cast.
For nearly a decade since becoming artistic director of North Coast Dance, Danny Furlong has put on a fully realized Nutcracker, most recently as resident company of the Arkley Center, a splendid place to experience classical ballet in all its grandeur. Like most local productions the cast is made up of studio students, company members and guest artists. Furlong has quite a gift for developing dancers who started late. It is unheard of in the big city dance world for a young woman to become proficient on point if she started later than 9 or 10 years old, (often earlier), no less 15 or 18 or 20.
One of these young women who was not a ballerina baby, Iris Van Atta, has moved through the ranks into the coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Exciting indeed! Other Primas are locally trained, too. The Snow Queen will be performed by Emily Claypool, who started her studies in Garberville with teacher Kathy Wolman, and the Rose Queen by Briana Cavinta, Furlong's first Clara, soon off to college. Marlo Bassett, an original member of NCD, is dancing Arabian Coffee. Always an eye out for talent, Danny spotted Darren Devaney and Jeffrey Ware dancing in San Francisco, both recent college graduates, and hired them to guest as The Snow King and Chinese Tea. Allen Arnold, who danced for Redwood Concert Ballet, returns for a stint as Drosselmeyer.
Twenty-something dancer, teacher, choreographer and entrepreneur, (and all around nice gal), Erin Fernandez grew up in Humboldt County. She cut her ballet teeth not only dancing in The Nutcracker, but directing the children's sections for Furlong at North Coast Ballet. Her Arcata studio Dance Class with Erin Fernandez is wildly popular, so much so that it recently expanded into a second location. [Editor's note: Erin's mother Carolyn is one of the owners of the Journal.]
A few years back Fernandez started her own holiday tradition by choreographing a major work, ‘*Twas the Night Before Christmas*, based on the poem by Clement C. Moore. It has become a yearly event performed by students of all ages from her studio. This season's solo roles are filled by local talent: Lindsay Bond, Julie Ryman, Kyle Ryan and the narrator by Threadbare owner, Kevin Sharkey.
The New World Ballet Holiday Concert will be an intimate performance of excerpts from The Nutcracker done at their studio in the Old Creamery Building. If you think you're Nutcrackered out this concert has surprises. Artistic director, Victor Temple, who performed with the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Oakland Ballet, and confided that he has passed the 40 mark, is coming out of retirement to dance the grand pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. If you haven't heard, New World Ballet founder and former director Nadine Cole, (who studied with Balanchine in the day), has also come out of retirement to train dancers and choreograph parts of this program.
Plans to bring a ballerina friend of Temple's from New York are in the works. Very cool is the Humboldt Rockers dancing the acrobatic Russian Trepak section, choreographed with hip hop and ballet movement. Icing on the cake is an appearance by Arcata High's world traveling Madrigal Choir, their magical voices setting the mood for enchantment.
Take your pick. Grab the kids, hook up with a friend, take an aunt or a grandparent and choose the concert best for you or celebrate big and go see more than one, or take them all in and surely, by Christmas Eve, visions of sugarplums will be dancing in your head.
Brava! Dance Eureka: *Nutcracker Highlights Reunion Production*
Friday, Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 27, 2 & 7:30 p.m., benefit matinee for the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2 p.m. at Redwood Raks, 824 L St., Arcata in the Old Creamery Building. Tickets $15, on sale at The Dancers Studio, Linden and Co. Salon, Shine Salon, Rookery Books, and the Breast Health Project. For additional information call 442-7770.
North Coast Dance: The Nutcracker
Opening Night Friday, Dec. 10, 8 p.m. All tickets $20; Saturday, Dec. 11, Sugar Plum Fairy Matinee, 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, matinee 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 14 and 15, 7 p.m. Arkley Center, 412 G St., Eureka. Tickets $20, $12 children available at the Arkley Center, 444-1956 or online at arkleycenter.com.
Dance Class with Erin Fernandez: *‘Twas the Night Before Christmas*
Saturday, Dec. 11, 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, 2 p.m. Van Duzer Theater, HSU, Arcata. Reserved seating (main ?oor) tickets $10, $8 children and seniors, available Nov. 29, at Common Ground Studio, Westwood Center, Arcata. General admission (balcony) tickets at Mosgo's Coffee or at door one hour prior to showtime. For more information call 822-8408.
New World Ballet: *New World Ballet Holiday Concert*
Friday and Saturday Dec. 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. New World Ballet Studio, 824 L St., Arcata in the Old Creamery Building. Tickets $7 at the door.