Few holiday rituals run as deep as The Nutcracker. The ballet, based on a tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, follows a young girl name Clara and her beloved Christmas gift, a wooden Nutcracker who at night transforms into a real-life prince. Set to a thundering Tchaikovsky score, it’s one of the more dazzling (and popular) ballets on the books. In fact, this month, in Santa Barbara alone, die-hard Nutcraker fanatics can catch four different renditions — and that’s only counting the ones we know about.
In anticipation of the holiday ballet mania, we sat down with three local Claras — Gustafson School of Dance/State Street Ballet’s Sarah Block and Sophia Caldwell and Santa Barbara Festival Ballet’s Gracie Barker — to talk Nutcracker highlights, seasonal traditions, and what’s topping their Christmas wish lists.
Is Clara your favorite role you’ve played?
Sophia Caldwell: Yes!
Sarah Block: Yeah. I actually played Clara last year, too.
Gracie Barker: It’s an honor to do any role, but I do love the role of Clara very much. However, I absolutely love tackling roles that aren’t that close to home for me. Being a sassy Spanish and a clockwork ballerina doll last year was really enjoyable.
SC: It’s really fun to dance with the company, with real professional dancers.
SB: It’s everyone’s dream role. And everyone comes to see you, basically.
Favorite scene: party scene or battle scene?
SC: Party scene
SB: Party scene
GB: I actually like them equally.
SC: It’s more dancing. And the dress is so pretty.
SB: The dancing. For the party scene, you’re basically the center of attention, except it’s really, really tiring.
GB: Clara is completely different in the two. In party scene she is sweet yet slightly sassy. But battle scene is totally different. By that point in the show, she’s being chased by rats, running all around and totally confused and scared by everything that’s going on. It’s a totally different part to play.
What’s your favorite holiday tradition?
SC: We have one day where my family decorates the house.
SB: Every Christmas, my block has a snowball fight with marshmallows. On Christmas morning we wake up, open presents, then we go outside and throw marshmallows at each other.
GB: My cousins from Illinois always come to Santa Barbara and stay with us. We always go downtown on Sunday to look at the art fair.
And your least favorite?
SC: Taking the decorations down. And my birthday. It’s on the 27th. It’s so bad.
GB: I don’t have any least favorite traditions. I love the holidays so much!
What do you want for Christmas?
GB: A college acceptance letter! My family is really big on skiing and snowboarding, so maybe some new snow gear — and a lot of snow!
Santa Barbara Festival Ballet presents The Nutcracker at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) on Saturday, December 13, at 2:30 and 7 p.m. and on Sunday, December 14, at 2:00 p.m. Call 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com. State Street Ballet presents The Nutcracker at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Saturday, December 20 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 21, at 2 p.m. Call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.