State Street Ballet to perform holiday favorite this weekend
Audrey Messer became excited when she saw the email that delivered news as magical as Christmas.
The 14-year-old Dos Pueblos High School freshman found out she would play Clara in State Street Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
It’s a dream part and a starring role in one of the most popular ballets, which has been performed by State Street Ballet and other Santa Barbara companies as a longtime Christmas tradition.
You could say Audrey has spent her life in preparation. She has studied since she was 2 with Gustafson Dance, the school associated with State Street Ballet, and this is her first time as Clara.
“I think when I first got the email that I got the role, I was really stunned because I went and auditioned with great and beautiful dancers,” she told the News-Press Thursday. “I didn’t expect to get Clara. When I did, I was really grateful.”
The Santa Barbara girl will play Clara during State Street Ballet’s performance at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Granada, 1214 State St.
And Audrey’s former teacher at Gustafson Dance, State Street Ballet dancer Amara Galloway, will portray Clara during the 7:30 p.m. Saturday show at the same Santa Barbara theater.
Noam Tsivkin of State Street Ballet is playing the Nutcracker Prince at both shows.
The production marks the first time State Street Ballet, which recently went on tour with “The Nutcracker,” has performed the Tchaikovsky classic in Santa Barbara in two years. The pandemic meant no live shows last Christmas season.
And the absence of a “Nutcracker” last year has increased dancers’ and audiences’ appreciation for this year’s production, Rodney Gustafson, artistic director of the State Street Ballet, told the News-Press Thursday. “We all missed it dearly.”
He said the State Street Ballet received standing ovations during its recent tour, with shows in Fresno; Spokane, Wash., and Durango, Colo.
Mr. Gustafson said he’s impressed with the two ballerinas playing Clara.
“Audrey’s lovely. She’s at the right age, and she’s a wonderful actress,” he said. “She has a nice technique.
“She really stood out to me during the auditions,” Mr. Gustafason said. “I really like her stage presence. She has a natural gift for that.”
Mr. Gustafson also praised Ms. Galloway for her portrayal of Clara.
“Her acting is incredibly precise and so natural,” he said. “Dancers don’t get to talk, so they have to express their communication through their movements and mime.”
He said Ms. Galloway’s performance doesn’t appear planned or choreographed. “She has a beautiful technique that is combined with her acting ability.”
Ms. Galloway told the News-Press Thursday that she loves acting in the role and that it’s one of her favorite parts for the holiday season.
“You have a lot of different emotions that you’re portraying on stage as you’re playing Clara,” Ms. Galloway said. “In the battle scene, you’re going to be scared.”
Clara has other reactions, including one of wonderment, as she sees the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of the Sweets, where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“My approach is to take each scene as it comes,” said Ms. Galloway, who was one of the dancers playing Clara during State Street Ballet’s recent tour. “Each one has a different way of acting. I’m chased by the Rat Queen in Act 2. I get to dance with the flowers in the second half of the show.”
This is Ms. Galloway’s fourth time playing Clara for State Street Ballet.
She joined the Santa Barbara company in 2017 after devoting her life to dance.
The Fairfax, Va., native started dancing lessons when she was 3. When she got her pointe shoes at age 12, she decided she would make it her career. She completed her training with Ballet Nova in 2015, then studied with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and with a company in Arizona before joining the State Street Ballet.
Ms. Galloway said she loves creating a physical and emotional connection with an audience, something she missed during the pandemic.
“I have a new appreciation for what movement means to me,” she said.
And Ms. Galloway praised Mr. Tsivkin, who’s playing The Nutcracker Prince. As Clara, she will dance with him.
“He’s a great dancer and partner,” she said. “He is the one who takes her (Clara) through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.”
On Sunday, when Audrey is playing Clara, Ms. Galloway will portray various other characters.
“Getting to see her (Audrey) take on this role is really cool,” Ms. Galloway said.
She has worked with Audrey on the role.
“She’s doing a really great job picking up everything and learning along the way,” Ms. Galloway said.
Audrey, who hasn’t decided on her career after high school, said Ms. Galloway has given her great instruction.
“I think Clara is a very dynamic role,” said Audrey, who will enter the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy next semester. “First you have to learn the choreography. Then you have to remember you’re Clara, and you’re in a magical world in your dreams.”