SANTA BARBARA - In 1974 the Santa Barbara Symphony’s renowned conductor, Ronald Ondrejka, excitedly pitched an idea to Bob and Carol Hanlin. Might their demure powerhouse of a dance school want to partner with the Santa Barbara Symphony in a truly lavish, spectacular, no-holds-barred production of The Nutcracker? One for the ages? The Hanlin’s enthusiastic “Yes!” continues to reverberate down through the decades, as the Santa Barbara Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Arlington with Live Symphony Orchestra takes to the stage again this year in a perennial production that has thrilled regional theatergoers for generations. The audience will literally feel the music as they are swept away by the live symphonic strains of Tchaikovsky’s beloved melodies and a thrilling dance spectacle under the legendary Arlington Theater’s twinkling vault of stars.
Now celebrating its 41st Anniversary (even as Santa Barbara Festival Ballet itself celebrates its 51st!), The Nutcracker at the Arlington has the distinction of being one of the longest continuously-running productions of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous ballet in the United States with full symphony orchestra accompaniment. This season, over three shows on December 12th and 13th, Conductor Elise Unruh and a cast of over 100 will once again fill the unique “twilight village” setting of the Arlington Theater with such music, color, dance, and community magic as can only be found in a generational legacy production of this kind.
Immerse yourself in another world as Santa Barbara Festival Ballet and Tchaikovsky’s enveloping melodies pull you into E.T.A. Hoffman’s thrilling and strange tale; The Nutcracker. The curtain rises and the expansive Arlington stage is thronged with celebrants and alive with music and color and dance as Herr Drosselmeyer arrives at the festive holiday gathering of adults and children. He has tricks up his sleeve and a handful of dazzling mechanical dolls to show off that come to life and dance before the unbelieving eyes of all. As the mechanical toys are removed from the parlor (to the frank disappointment of the wonderstruck children), he produces yet another, more lasting gift: a beautiful Nutcracker (Christopher Carmona), which he presents to Clara (played by Alexa Hellman). Clara is smitten with her gift. What follows will bedazzle the audience as it does Clara herself.
You will see the amazing transformations the characters themselves see - a gigantic tree will grow onstage before your very eyes, an army of rats will do battle with tin soldiers, and the stunned Clara will be swept off her feet and into the Kingdom of Sweets by her Nutcracker come to life. Once they arrive at the kingdom, they, and the audience, are treated to some of the most rapturous music and dance ever created for the stage, and in a singularly immersive and authentic production which includes lavish scenery painted expressly for Santa Barbara Festival Ballet in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Nutcracker at the Arlington is a show whose live Symphonic embrace and emotionally compelling art will have you exiting the theater blinking the dream away, your mind elsewhere and your senses sated.
The Nutcracker at the Arlington will feature professional guest artists Michele Wiles, Founder, Artistic Director and Principal Dancer of New York City-based BalletNext (Sugarplum Fairy), Russell Janzen, Soloist with New York City Ballet and 2015 recipient of the Clive Barnes Award for outstanding new performer (Cavalier), Tracy R. Kofford, Artistic Director of Dance SBCC, MFA New York University, TISCH School of the Arts, national and international performer of his own work and that of Jennifer Muller/The Works (Arabian Cavalier), and Santa Barbara Festival Ballet’s own returning guest alumnus Chelsea Cambron. Chelsea holds the Maestro Enrico Cecchetti Diploma, and was recipient of the Contemporary Award from the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition in Manchester, England in 2011. She most recently worked as a dancer with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines aboard the ship Jewel of the Seas, plying the seas from the Caribbean to Alaska and the Pacific coast and expanded her range with jazz and Broadway style performance.
Tchaikovsky’s beloved and achingly beautiful score for The Nutcracker was in part colored by the passing of the great composer’s younger sister in the middle of the Nutcracker’s composition. He is known to have transferred his insupportable grief into the person of The Nutcracker’s Clara, who in Tchaikovsky’s compositional frenzy became the still point around whom his energies swirled and found solace through the remainder of the show’s writing. The Nutcracker at the Arlington is a perennial holiday tradition in Santa Barbara whose vibrant live symphony orchestra and lush balletic beauty combine to convey the powerful loveliness of a work the composer took truly to heart. Join Santa Barbara Festival Ballet and your fellow community members for an evening of unforgettable and exalting music and movement.
Says Conductor Elise Unruh, “I’ve been associated with this production of The Nutcracker for most of it’s history, first as a musician in the orchestra and subsequently as the conductor. It has become the official start to my holiday season. The wonderful Tchaikovsky score and the opportunity to collaborate with the talented dancers and choreographers combine to create a joyful experience for me that I hope our audiences experience as well.”