For the holiday season, State Street Ballet is once again staging its production of “The Nutcracker” and as per usual, fine-tuning the performance with each successive year to keep it a fresh experience. Choreographed and helmed by director and company founder Rodney Gustafson, the show will feature State Street Ballet’s professional dancers performing alongside students from the company’s school Gustafson Dance to music performed by the Opera San Luis Obispo Grand Orchestra.
As with State Street Ballet’s recent performances of “The Nutcracker,” its upcoming shows at the Granada Theatre over the weekend of December 21 and 22 will present a traditional take on the classic. During the dance company’s first decade, it staged a production that Mr. Gustafson referred to as “The Hollywood Nutcracker,” which had an aesthetic reminiscent of 1930s Hollywood, featuring men in tail suits and other fashions reflective of movies like the musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
In an interview with the News-Press, the director said this approach to “The Nutcracker” was heavily inspired by that of famous dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who Mr. Gustafson worked under as a dancer at American Ballet Theatre in New York City. The director described Mr. Baryshnikov’s “The Nutcracker” as more “adult oriented” than those that preceded it.
In State Street Ballet’s 2019 production, the Baryshnikov influence is particularly apparent during the battle scene between the soldiers and mice, which utilizes adults rather than children. As the upcoming show will have the soldiers played by experienced female dancers, their movements are extremely and appropriately precise. Mr. Gustafson added that this scene’s choreography contains many humorous moments, which in his opinion is a huge part of what makes a production of “The Nutcracker” entertaining or not.
“Some people say ‘Nutcrackers’ are boring, but they’re not if you inject some humor into it,” he said.
As Gustafson Dance grew in its number of students, Mr. Gustafson began to integrate the school with the company and decided to revert from the “The Hollywood Nutcracker” to a more traditional production that would utilize advanced dance students along with professionals. Whereas many productions of “The Nutcracker” have a little girl playing the highly coveted role of protagonist Clara, State Street Ballet’s production will star 14-year-old Ashly Pryor in the December 21 and 22 matinees, while 16-year-old Ella Rotando will play Clara in the December 21 evening performance.
Coming right in the midst of the holiday season, Mr. Gustafson aims to deliver “good holiday feeling” to the Santa Barbara audience and provide something of a respite from the political stress and divisiveness that characterize these times. Seeing the arts as something that “transforms us to a place where we find our own humanity,” he ultimately hopes the “The Nutcracker” leaves audiences walking away from the Granada having experienced “moments of joy.” Tickets for State Street Ballet’s performances of “The Nutcracker” can be purchased online at www.granadasb.org. Two performances will be held on December 21, a matinee at 2 p.m. and an evening show at 7:30 p.m., while December 22 will have one 2 p.m. matinee. The Granada Theatre is located at 1214 State St.