Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

The ‘Nutcracker’ tradition

There’s a lot to love about a local “Nutcracker,” from the cute-as-puppies little ones making their debut on the Saroyan stage to the artistry of the guest performers (Ethan and Nikki White offered a stunning rendition of “Arabian Coffee” at Sunday’s matinee). But one of my favorite parts is afterward, when the entire cast surges into the Saroyan lobby to meet family and friends. The smiles are wide and the camera flashes have a paparazzi feel. I grabbed a shot of the inimitable James Mullolly, who plays the coy (and very wide-hipped) Mother Ginger in the Central California Ballet production, greeting two of his Bon-Bons. What a memorable weekend for these enthusiastic dancers.

Pictured: Nozomi Bergstrom, Samantha Bergstrom, James Mullooly and Ena Wang. 

Win tickets to this weekend’s ‘Nutcracker’

You want “Nutcracker” tickets? I have a bunch of them to give away — a whopping SIXTEEN, in fact. The Central California Ballet production, featuring a cast of 90-plus dancers made up of community members and professionals dancing the leading roles, will be performed three times this weekend at the Saroyan Theatre.

In this production, the Mouse Queen from the original “Nutcracker” is given a starring role. Here’s how the Lively Arts Foundation describes the show:

Highlights of this mesmerizing event are Jackie McConnell and Connolly Strombeck, principal dancers of the Oakland Ballet, dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Returning guest artists, Ethan and Nikki White, formerly of TV’s “Live to Dance” will perform the Snow Queen and King Pas de Deux. They will also repeat the stunning Arabian divertissment which they performed in last year’s show. The coveted role of Marie will be shared by Marin Brant and Anna Lippert. Ian McFarland and Tyler Mrkaich will share the role of Fritz, Marie’s brother.

Tickets for this production normally cost $32.25-$52.25.

Here’s how the giveaway will work: I have a four-pack of tickets to give away to the 2 p.m. Saturday performance and a four-pack for the 7:30 p.m. Saturday performance. For the 2 p.m. Sunday performance, I have two four-packs — eight total — to give away to two readers.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever been to “The Nutcracker” and share a memory if you’d like. Or tell us why you’d like to see it for the first time. INCLUDE YOUR PREFERENCE FOR WHICH PERFORMANCE YOU’D LIKE TO ATTEND. Winners will be selected at random. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the Will Call window at the box office. Only one entry per person, please.

Deadline to enter is 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 11. I’ll be contacting winners by email, so be sure to check yours on Thursday. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Friday morning, I reserve the right to pick another — we don’t want these tickets to go to waste.

Rules are on the jump.

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‘Nutcracker’: a holiday tradition

Nine years ago, the Valley Performing Arts Council launched a Thanksgiving weekend tradition: a joint production of “The Nutcracker” with the Sacramento Ballet. It’ll be performed at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, and Sunday, Nov. 30 at the Saroyan Theatre.

One charming aspect of the production is the incorporation of local children in the show alongside the professionals. (The same is the case with the Central California Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 13 and 14.)  For our 7 cover story today, we asked seven of those local children to come in for a photo shoot. We didn’t use the above picture by Bee photographer Mark Crosse of Jillian Rogers, left, as Clara, and Caleigh Alday, as Fritz, in the print edition, but I wanted to be sure to share it with folks. To me, it captures the youth and vitality of “The Nutcracker” no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Win tickets to ‘The Nutcracker’

UPDATE: Congratulations to winner Whitney Saubert.

ORIGINAL POST: No question about it, this is a big ticket week here at the Beehive. In addition to the “Parental Guidance” and “How to Train Your Dragon Live” giveaways already ongoing, I’m throwing another one into the mix: the Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.”

I have a four-pack of tickets to give away to one reader to the 7:30 p.m. Saturday performance at the Saroyan Theatre. To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite “Nutcracker” memory. (Or, if you’ve never seen the show, tell us why you’d like to go.) I’ll select one comment at random as the winner.

Deadline is 2 p.m. THURSDAY.

If you win, you’ll be able to pick up the tickets at the door.  Please don’t enter more than once. Check your email between 2 and 2:30 p.m. Thursday to see if you won, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. Complete rules on the jump.

In the meantime, you can read my piece about Michaela DePrince’s amazing journey from African orphanage to this weekend’s Sugar Plum Fairy in Thursday’s Life section. (She’s pictured above.)

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Donald’s weekend picks

Who needs shopping, anyway?

If you haven’t yet seen the Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” what are you thinking? It’s a great evening. Here’s my review. There are two more performances: 8 p.m. today and Saturday.  [Details]

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REVIEW: ‘The Nutcracker’

Nutcr.  Dress_0151.jpg

The Central California Ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker” is a happy combination of professional ballet dancers and enthusiastic community members. This year’s production — which played three performances over the weekend at the Saroyan Theatre — was a nice blend of the two.

In some ways, it was the little things that tickled me this year: the way the littlest dancer in the Chinese dragon, stuck in the rear, wiggled the tail. Or the big pillars that look like ice-cream sundaes on the Kingdom of the Sweets backdrop. Or the cleverness of Herr Drosselmeyer’s “magic” box in the party scene. And how about those twitching, restless mice, who manage to be both endearing and rodent-like at the same time?

The pros were in fine form as well. Ethan and Nikki White, who catapulted to national fame thanks to Paula Abdul’s “Live to Dance” TV competition, made an exquisite Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. And a happy homecoming feeling was in the air when it came to Courtney Boyd, a Fresno native who trained with Central California Ballet and is now a member of Santa Monica’s Monat Dance group, when she performed as the “Dew Drop” soloist.

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An acrobatic ‘Nutcracker’


When the Central California Ballet on Saturday opens its annual production of “The Nutcracker” at the Saroyan Theatre, all eyes will be on Ethan and Nikki White, finalists in Paula Abdul’s recent “Live to Dance” TV show, who are dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. (I interviewed Ethan White for a piece in Thursday’s Life section.)

But there will be another sure-fire crowd pleaser. In the traditional Russian dance, eight gymnasts from Break the Barriers of Fresno will perform. The organization is dedicated to bringing together people of various abilities into the able-bodied world of sports and arts. The participating dancers are members of the organization’s gymnastics team.

The eight dancers have been rehearsing with the rest of the nearly 100-member cast for the ballet, which will be performed 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Russian dance has some of the most rousing music in Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Diane Mosier, the ballet’s artistic director, says the gymnasts are ready to put on quite a show.

“They can hurl their bodies in the air in a very awesome manner,” she says.

In fact, some of their routine couldn’t be practiced in the ballet company’s rehearsal space at Fresno’s In the Spotlight Dance Center, which has a 10-foot clearance. They had to wait until they got into the actual theater.

“We couldn’t do everything because the ceiling wasn’t high enough,” Mosier says.

REVIEW: Live music returns to ‘The Nutcracker’


When conductor Henrik Jul Hansen raised his baton on Sunday for the opening notes of “The Nutcracker,” it was a fantastic moment.

Ever since the Valley Performing Arts Council teamed with the Sacramento Ballet in 2007 to present a Thanksgiving weekend performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Saroyan Theatre, the production has used recorded music. Many audience members have probably grown accustomed to the experience since then. After all, it’s perfectly good recorded music, right? What difference can it make?

They didn’t know what they were missing.

This year, musicians from the Fresno Grand Opera orchestra — named the Fresno Ballet Theatre Orchestra for this occasion — were on hand to play Tchaivkovsky’s score live, and it added an extra zest to an already fine performance.

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To-Do This Weekend: ‘The Nutcracker’


I know, it’s probably still too early for many of you to give a thought to the weekend. You still have turkey to think about. But a little planning ahead can save you some bucks — and nab you some decent seats — at this weekend’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Saroyan Theatre. Ballet co-sponsor Fresno Grand Opera — whose musicians are providing live accompaniment for the event for the first time in years — is holding a “Black Friday” sale through Friday offering 25% off listed ticket prices.

The production, which features 30 professional members of the Sacramento Ballet and more than 100 local dancers, will be performed 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. I have a story in Thursday’s Life section about the live-music angle for this year’s show, so be sure and check it out.

Donald’s weekend picks

Here’s something I remind people every holiday season: At each performance of “The Nutcracker,” there are children experiencing this holiday classic for the very first time. (Some adults, too!) Their initial wonder is what makes this annual experience extra special for the performers — and the audience as well. That’s what rituals are all about The Central California Ballet is putting on three shows this weekend: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, all at the Saroyan Theatre. The production brings together professionals in the principal roles, local student dancers and adult community members. I wrote about an interesting local angle in Thursday’s Life section: 16-year-old Carolyn Lippert, who is pursuing a career as professional ballet dancer, grew up playing various roles in the show. This year she’s dancing the part of the Snow Princess, which is considered the top rung of the student-danced roles.


Bee photo: Craig Kohlruss

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More on Irlan Santos da Silva, the Cavalier in ‘Nutcracker’

In Friday’s 7 section I talk to Meaghan Grace Hinkis of American Ballet Theatre II, who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.” One thing she mentioned in the interview is that her dance partner, Irlan Santos da Silva of Rio de Janiero, is the subject of a 2009 film titled “Only When I Dance.” According to IMDB, it’s about “two black children from the Favela in Brazil, who, despite constant prejudice and doubt, are both determined to beat the odds and follow their dreams to use dancing as an escape rarely found in their tough day to day lives.”

Win tickets to ‘The Nutcracker’


UPDATE 12/18: And our winner is Danielle Shapazian. Congrats!

ORIGINAL ENTRY: One of the great things about “The Nutcracker” is the fact that it’s a wonderful holiday tradition, especially when you share it with a wide-eyed child. One of the not-so-great things is that a big, live performance like this can come with a pretty hefty price tag. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to offer TWO tickets to the 2 p.m. Saturday performance of Central California Ballet’s production at the Saroyan Theatre to a lucky Beehive reader. The orchestra seats we’re giving away regularly cost $50 for adults (half-price for kids).

Winning the tickets is easy: Just tell us why you want to win. Or share a favorite “Nutcracker” memory. The winner will be randomly selected among all comments received and notified by e-mail (so use a real e-mail address). The deadline is 2 p.m. Thursday. No repeat comments please. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something in the past 30 days (the “Up in the Air” screening doesn’t count). Complete rules after the jump. You’ll need to pick up the tickets at The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday.

“The Nutcracker” plays 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

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