There’s much to be said for innovation, as Rodney Gustafson well knows. The artistic director of State Street Ballet has built his company’s reputation by commissioning original work and introducing audiences to contemporary ballet choreography. But when Christmastime rolls around, Gusfason thinks it’s best to stick with tradition. This weekend, State Street Ballet will present the holiday classic The Nutcracker at the Granada Theatre. And, for the first time in the company’s 18-year history, a live orchestra will accompany the performance.
Of course, The Nutcracker wouldn’t be The Nutcracker without the iconic score by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, but in past years, State Street Ballet (SSB) has tinkered with other aspects of the original, staging the Stahlbaum family’s lavish Christmas party not in 18th-century Germany but in 1930s Hollywood. This year, it’s back to the classic version, complete with sets produced in Moscow, Russia, and period costumes designed by A. Christina Giannini and Anaya Cullen.
As for the dancing, it’s fair to expect the best. Gustafson has plenty of strong soloists to choose from these days, and with three Santa Barbara performances, there’s time to rotate the cast. Look for longtime SSB members and relative newcomers alike, among them Ryan Camou and Yosuke Yamamoto in the role of the Nutcracker Prince, and Kate Kadow and Kaori Takai dancing the role of the Sugarplum Fairy. Gustafson Dance students Lily Conroy and Julia DePaoli will share the role of Clara.
One might expect the collaboration between a ballet company and an orchestra to be an elaborate affair, but much of the preparation is done separately; the companies will have just two rehearsals together before the curtain goes up. Under the direction of conductor Brian Asher Alhadeff, Opera San Luis Obispo’s orchestra is already rehearsing the score at the exact tempo specified by Gustafson — one of the great benefits of using live music.
For kids in particular, the glittering fantasy of The Nutcracker tends to be unforgettable. Here’s betting even adults won’t be immune to the holiday magic of this particular production.
Catch this Nutcracker at the Granada on Saturday, December 22, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, December 23, at 2 p.m. Call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org for tickets and info.