'Nutcracker' offers something for everyone

A fight scene for the boys. Romance for the preteen girls. Nostalgia for the parents. Plus, the Sugar Plum Fairy and that scary mouse.

The team behind Festival Ballet Theatre's production of "The Nutcracker" has a simple theory for why the show has such lasting power: It offers a little something for everyone.

"It has so many characters that you don't get bored," said Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla. "You have to really be in love with ballet to enjoy 'Swan Lake,' but you don't have to be in love with ballet to enjoy 'The Nutcracker.'"

Certainly, Tchaikovsky's 1892 classic has had staying power at the Fountain Valley-based nonprofit company, which has put it on for 23 straight years. This December, for the fifth year, the production will take place at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

The story is probably familiar to many: Clara, a young German girl, receives a toy nutcracker from her godfather on Christmas Eve, then watches it come alive later that night and defend her against an army of mice. Then the nutcracker turns into a prince and takes Clara to the Land of Sweets, a fantasy world populated by a huge cast of characters.

Rizkalla said the story can be taken as a parable of a girl's first crush — one of the reasons she casts a teenager rather than a smaller child as Clara.

"She's, how do you say, innocent," Rizkalla said. "She has a lot of hopes and fears."

"The Nutcracker" cast features more than 200 dancers (not all featured in the same performances) who range from children to adults. Most of the cast members come from the Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley and Irvine, which feeds into Festival Ballet Theatre, but other parts are cast through open auditions.

This year's performance, as in the past, also features professional dancers from troupes across the country, who join "The Nutcracker" cast every year to play the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. The first guest pairs for this season come from American Ballet Theatre: Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky on Dec. 10 and 11, Gillian Murphy and Gennadi Saveliev on Dec. 16, 17 and 18.

Carla Körbes of Pacific Northwest Ballet and Fabrice Calmels of Joffrey Ballet will take over from Dec. 20 to 24.

The featured dancers help bring in a wide audience, according to marketing director Connie Jankowski.

"People will come just to see those names," she said. "It's a very big thing for Orange County to have dancers of that caliber here."


Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB


If You Go

What: "The Nutcracker"

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Dec. 16, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 17, 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 18, 6 p.m. Dec. 20 and 21, 2 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23 and 11 a.m. Dec. 24

Cost: $40 for adults, $37 for seniors, $35 for children

Information: (714) 962-5440 or festivalballet.org

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