Review: Long Beach Ballet's Stunning Holiday Classic THE NUTCRACKER Named the Best-Loved in the U.S. for 2018
Long Beach Ballet is one of Southern California's leading classical ballet institutions, due to the academy's reputation for excellence, dedication and passion for the art. Its students have gone on to join companies like San Francisco Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, and the Dresden Ballet. But even more impressive to me was the young talent in this year's annual production of THE NUTCRACKER at the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center from December 15 to 23. The production is always a real treat for the entire family, especially since many of the featured dancers range in age from 12 to 17 years of age, many of whom have studied with the group's Academy since childhood.
The Long Beach Ballet's Artistic Director David Wilcox, a Los Angeles native, began studying the dance at the age of eleven and then continued his studies in London, beginning his professional career in Germany at the age of nineteen, going on to dance with the Berlin Ballet, the Nuremberg Ballet and the Heidelberg Ballet. In 1981, he co-founded Long Beach Ballet which has become Southern California's most successful ballet company for the past 15 years.
Wilcox pulled out all the stops for this 36th production of the classical tale with a full symphony orchestra (one of only two ballet companies in the country that use two harps for their production to ensure the performance sounds exactly as Tchaikovsky intended it to sound), a flying sleigh, on-stage pyrotechnics, a cast of over 200, along with a special appearance by Rebel, Long Beach Ballet's gorgeous white Arabian horse.
Former Disney designers Elliot Hessayon and Scott Schaffer created the enchanting scenery, Australian artist Adrian Clark designed the detailed costumes, and renowned magician Franz Harary created the special effects, including a magical costume switch involving Clara (the amazing 12-year old Vera Fratovich at the performance I attended) who instantly changed from her nightgown into a gleaming ball gown.
Featured in the company along with Miss Fratovich (who shared the role of Clara with 12-year old Sofia Aniceto) were many equally talented young and teen performers who danced just as brilliantly as adults I have seen take on many of THE NUTCRACKER iconic roles. Among there were 12-year old Alfredo Garcia as Clara's troublesome brother Fritz, 18-year old Sofia Striegl as the Snow Queen and in the Spanish Dance with 17-year old Brent Shavelle, 16-year old Stephen Kessler with 17-year old Alexi Zoolakis in the Chinese Dance, 17-year old Kyra Byrne in the Dance of the Mirlitons (and in the Waltz of the Flowers with several others), Liliana Rode McCarty as the Columbine Doll, and many, many others too numerous to list in this review including all the very young children featured as Mice, Soldiers, Flowers, Angels, Sentries, the children of Mother Ginger (Ferrin Beckett) who comically emerged from under her massive costume, and guests during the opening scene at Clara's party during which the family's Maid (Dana Pugh) comically attempted to keep the children and festivities in order.
Guest adult performers included Pacific Northwest Ballet's Sarah Ricard Orza as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Seth Orza at the Nutcracker Prince, with the two performing the Grand Pas de Deux at the end of Act II. Other stunning adult performers included Melissa Sandvig as the Dewdrop Fairy, Evan Swenson as the Snow King, Ellen Bigalow and Ben Majors as the Arabian Dancers, the absolutely amazing and athletic Russian Dancers David Block, Julian Sanz and busy 17-year old Brent Shavelle (who also dances as the Nutcracker Doll and others), handsome Saxon Wood as the Harlequin Doll.
The Long Beach Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER has been seen by millions of people worldwide, including live audiences totaling more than 400,000 in Long Beach, 70,000 in Pasadena, hundreds of thousands throughout Asia (as performed by the Chinese Guangzhou Ballet), and millions more on television. And now that I can count myself among those entertained by the talented troupe of dancers, I can assure you LAB's overall production is so magnificent on all levels that even those who think they do not like ballet will certainly enjoy it, along with Tchaikovsky's beautiful score conducted by Dr. Roger Hickman.
After competing in a field of more than 65 nominees, it's easy to see why Goldstar, the live entertainment discovery platform that connects its audience of 10 million ticket buyers with its more than 6,000 live entertainment venues and producer-partners across the U.S., announced that Long Beach Ballet has won the 12th Annual Goldstar National Nutcracker Award. As the winner of the only award that honors live performances of the seasonal classic, Long Beach Ballet will receive a cash prize to go toward education and accessibility programs; the coveted "Nutty" statuette; and is officially named the best-loved Nutcracker in the U.S. for 2018.
"This is indeed a great honor to be voted the best of so many great Nutcrackers around the country," says, Long Beach Ballet, Artistic Director David Wilcox. "This production has been a labor of love for me, my staff, and our wonderful dancers. We all look forward to many more years of magic and beauty!"
Tickets for next year's production of THE NUTCRACKER at the Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, located at 300 E Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90802, will go on sale months prior to the annual December performances, and will be available for purchase through the Long Beach Ballet "Hotline" at (877) 852-3177, and the Long Beach Performing Arts Center Main Box Office, and online through the Long Beach Ballet website, www.LongBeachNutcracker.com. Discounts will be available for children, seniors, and groups of 15 or more. For more information visit: http://www.longbeachballet.com/
Photos courtesy of the Long Beach Ballet