The Joffrey Ballet has a hand—make that feet—in two of Tucson's Nutcrackers this year.
Three dancers who trained with the prestigious company will dance separately in the city's most important productions. Lindsey Felix will star as the Prickly Pear Fairy in Tucson Regional Ballet's charming Southwest Nutcracker this weekend, partnered by Max Foster as Caballero.
Fredrick Davis, who was the subject of a PBS documentary last summer, will dance the Cavalier in Ballet Tucson's classic Nutcracker, to be staged in the days just before Christmas.
Tucson Regional Ballet
Felix, a current student at the Joffrey school and a member of its student troupe Joffrey Ensemble, has another thing going for her besides her Joffrey training, says Linda Walker, artistic director of Tucson Regional Ballet. She's a hometown girl made good.
"I had her since she was a little bitty thing," Walker says. "She trained with our company, grew up in our school, and danced almost every role in our Nutcracker. She was Prickly Pear in 2012, when she was in high school."
Felix, who's been studying at the Joffrey for the last four years, recently guest-danced in the Royal Danish Ballet's Swan Lake in Denmark.
In Tucson, her role of Prickly Pear is the equivalent of the Sugar Plum Fairy in traditional Nutcrackers, a fairy-tale character who dances a tour-de-force solo and pas de deux in Act Two. Tucson Regional's production, going strong since 1994, is not exactly traditional. It does tell the usual story of young girl magically transported on Christmas Eve to a Land of Sweets, but the tale is recast in 1880s Tucson.
Prickly Pear's partner is a Caballero, not a Cavalier. Drosselmeyer, the mysterious figure who ignites the action, metamorphoses into Tío Diego, a Zorro-like figure draped in a black cape. The mice are transformed into coyotes, and the Victorian house where the opening party takes place is reinvented as a Southwest hacienda.
Max Foster, who's made guest appearances in the show the last few years "is a lovely dancer and wonderful to work with," Walker says.
Another precocious local kid, Foster grew up dancing in Tucson's modern troupes. In the summer of 2004, still a teenager, he went off to study in the Joffrey's summer intensive. He eventually landed in Ecuador, where he danced professionally for three years, before returning to Tucson to earn his undergrad dance degree at UA Dance. Right now he's pursuing a master's. With two such capable dancers, the company's rehearsal directors, Jeffrey Graham Hughes and Pamela Raymond Hughes, will be able to upgrade the pas de deux choreography to more challenging—and spectacular—movement, Walker says.
Some 87 dancers will perform in the ballet, from tiny tots to advanced teens to adults playing party guests. Besides Foster, three other UA guest artists will perform: Alejandro MullerDahlberg as the Nutcracker, Christian Blue as the Gambler Doll ("what a tumbler!" Walker says of Blue) and Emigdio Arrendondo as Tío Diego.
Some 30 Tucson Symphony Orchestra musicians will perform the beloved 1892 score by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Lawrence Golan.[cq]
"It's wonderful to have live music," Walker says. "It completes the artistry."
Guest star Fredrick Davis has had a fairy-tale career. The documentary From the Streets to the Stage chronicles the improbable twists in his life, from his early days as a homeless kid in Tennessee to a career in dance.
As a boy, Davis found his way to the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation and started dance classes.
"He turned out to be talented," says Mary Beth Cabana, artistic director of Ballet Tucson. "Dance saved his life."
Davis went on to Ballet Tennessee and from there to the Joffrey school. Then he danced at Dance Theatre of Harlem for years before turning freelance.
A rare African-American ballet dancer, Davis will make his debut as a guest artist at Ballet Tucson with The Nutcracker and stay with the company through the season.
Cabana is thrilled to have him.
"He's nice and tall," she says. "He'll make a good partner with Jenna Johnson," the company's star ballerina. The pair will dance the Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy.
The company's traditional Nutcracker, complete with an old-world house, falling snow and velvet costumes in the colors of Christmas, will feature a small army of 100 dancers performing to recorded music. Thirty-two are paid pros in the professional company. Advanced teen dancers from the troupe's school will be rounded out by kids, dressed as sheep and candies.
Among the dancing pros, Daniel Precup will perform Drosselmeyer. Mauricio Vergara, who danced a mesmerizing Aztec god in last month's Spirit Garden ballet, will dance the Snow King to Taylor Johnson's Snow Queen; the pair will alternate the parts with Vasili Lunde and Laura Lunde.
The company's shows are "right up against Christmas," Cabana says, "but people are looking to do something with family."
Like Tucson Regional Ballet, Ballet Tucson has been performing its version of the 1892 Russian ballet every year since 1994.
"It's our bread and butter," Cabana says. "And people love it."