Festive Footwork

It's Time Once Again For The Annual 'Nutcracker' Roundup.
By Margaret Regan

THIS YEAR TUCSON ballet lovers can indulge in a veritable cornucopia of Nutcrackers.

At last count the tally had reached five productions, making at least one on the stage every weekend from Thanksgiving to just before Christmas. The variations range from the UA Dance Division's student performance of excerpts to Ballet Arizona's fully staged extravaganza, complete with professional dancers, a bevy of Tucson kids, and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

Tucson Regional Ballet's popular Southwest Nutcracker is an adaptation full of coyotes and cacti, which in its third year has managed to snare two principal dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet. Ballet Arts Foundation offers a more traditional interpretation, enhanced by professionally built scenes and costumes. Last weekend Southern Arizona Dance Theater got the jump on everybody with A New Nutcracker Fantasy.

Dance Scrooges, acknowledging the beauty of Tchaikovsky's 1892 symphony, wonder just why it is that a ballet telling E.T.A. Hoffman's confused Christmas tale of rat kings and dancing candy keeps getting more popular every year. Local artistic directors don't think it's one bit odd.

"People really want tradition over the holidays," says Mary Beth Cabana, artistic director of Ballet Arts Foundation. "This is a wonderful tradition. It's all part of the ritual."

Jory Hancock, head of the UA Dance Division, says the students clamored to put on at least part of The Nutcracker, which the UA has not staged in several years.

"We stopped doing it because we were trying to make more room for modern and jazz," Hancock says. "But it's part of the classical repertoire. Students need to do it. It's a vehicle for about 40 kids to dance. Plus it's fantastic music."

Ballet Arizona's Michael Uthoff agrees, opining: "It's a very charming story, with beautiful music and dancing." And, he adds, the beauty of a classic is its reliable sameness.

"With familiarity, you don't get contempt," Uthoff says. "You get to see things in a different light."

And, if The Nutcracker pleases the crowds, it also pleases strapped troupes' bottom lines. Herewith are details on Tucson's remaining four Nutcracker productions, in chronological order.

December 5-8: Winter Concert, four performances of a ballet, jazz and modern dance program, by students in the UA Dance Division, at Ina Gittings Dance Theatre on the UA campus, December 5, 6, 7. There are two different programs, to be danced at different performances, to taped music.

Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., students will perform the Grand Pas de Deux from Act II of The Nutcracker. Other pieces include "The Passage of Enlightenment," a blend of Chinese and western movement by Tzu-Hua Chen; "Clouds," a jazz work by Michael Williams and Susan Quinn; and "Everlast," a modern duet by Thom Lewis.

The full second act of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Hancock and Melissa Lowe, can be seen at the 8 p.m. Friday show and the 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Also on the program: "Beyond Light" by Rodni Williams, "Sculptured Garden" by Sam Watson, and "Spring's Awakening" by John M. Wilson. Dance audiences will be cheered to learn the remodeled Ina Gittings now has new, more comfortable seats. Tickets are $8 general, $5 for seniors and students. For more information call 621-1162 or 621-4698.

A Southwest Nutcracker, four performances presented by Tucson Regional Ballet, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, December 6 and 7, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, December 7 and 8, at TCC Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave. Music is taped.

This one, co-choreographed by artistic director Linda Walker and Carolyn Haatainan-Wallace, is set in 1880s Tucson. Instead of mice versus all the king's men, coyotes battle soldiers in the U.S. Cavalry. Drosselmeyer, played by long-time Tucson dancer Richard Holden, is a Zorro figure, and the little girl goes not to Candy Land but to a Desert Dream. The company held open auditions for the adult and child parts, though a majority of them have been filled by students from the Tucson School of Ballet.

The big coup for the company this year was to enlist Anne Derieux and Phillip Otto of the prestigious Pacific Northwest Ballet. Otto dances the gunslinger in Act 1, and as the Prickly Pear Fairy and the Caballero, the pair dances the Grand Pas de Duex in Act II.

"Their price was not as bad as I thought," reports Walker, "but they're well worth the price. They bring strong quality and give the audience the chance to see really strong professionals."

Tickets are $11.75 for adults, $9.75 for seniors, students and children. To charge by phone, call 791-4266.

December 12-15: The Nutcracker, five performances presented by Ballet Arizona, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.: at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, December 12, 13, 14; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, December 13 and 14.

This one is the big, sumptuous, professional production, choreographed by Uthoff. Besides the full Tucson Symphony Orchestra, there are the troupe's pro dancers and about 48 dancing Tucson children, dazzling costumes and elaborate sets that fill up the big TCC stage. The three prima ballerinas sharing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy are 34-year-old Gail Passey-Reed, performing her last big role before her retirement at season's end; Gia Firicano, who was Swannhilde in the recent Coppélia; and Yen-Li Chen-Zhang, a beautiful dancer who was Juliet last season and the doll Coppélia this season. Aurora Frey, an 11-year-old Tucsonan, dances Clara.

As a bonus for the children in the audience, 30 minutes before each production a storyteller will recount the tale of the ballet in the lobby. Those children will also get to have their names drawn in a lottery before each show; the winner will win a small guest part in the ballet's first act as a soldier.

Naturally, this big production is also the most expensive, with adult tickets going from $17 to $39, and kids 12 and under paying $12 to $29, plus service charges. For ticket info call 882-5022, ext. 771.

December 20-21: The Nutcracker, five performances presented by Ballet Arts Foundation at the PCC Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road, at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 20, 21, 22, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Music is taped.

Like Tucson Regional Ballet, Ballet Arts holds open auditions to fill the 120 parts in its production. About three-quarters of the performers are children, and the bulk of those attend Mary Beth Cabana's respected Ballet Arts School. This full-length Nutcracker is in its third year; before that the company performed excerpts. Ballet Arts prides itself on its diligent adherence to the ballet tradition, and its Nutcracker reflects that.

"It's professionally produced," says Cabana, "with sets by a professional scenic designer and costumes by professional seamstresses...We traditionally sell out."

Tickets are $12 for all seats and they're available at the school, 200 S. Tucson Blvd., and at the door. For information call 623-3373. TW

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