Photo Credit: Katie Ging
With The Nutcracker season upon us, it can be difficult to discern what production to see in the Southern California area. Long Beach Ballet’s annual holiday tradition has been around for 34 years and returning audiences know not to expect a classical ballet staging — it’s so much more than that.
Long Beach Ballet’s Artistic Director David Wilcox has a vision for his production that exceeds most viewers’ expectations.
“We are an academy, not a professional company,” Wilcox says. “Our production has been carefully crafted to look like a fully professional company and production.”
He focuses on the spectacle of the ballet with a cast of over 200 and a full symphony orchestra delivering the music exactly the way Tchaikovsky wanted his listeners to hear it.
“We have two harps just as Tchaikovsky wrote it,” he explains. Long Beach Ballet and the famed New York City Ballet are the only two companies where you can hear the composer’s score fully executed.
Photo Credit: Katie Ging
Wilcox got an early start in dance and theatre because his mother was an accompanist in musical theatre and eventually, ballet companies.
"I was never ambitious enough to be a really great ballet dancer,” Wilcox jokes. “I was lazy, but I enjoyed putting on huge cabaret parties with my friends and I know I am good at telling stories.”
His flair for the theatrical led him to start a professional ballet company in 1983. The company lasted for 15 years, but his Nutcracker production has endured the test of time.
“We bring in big principal dancers to play Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince every year,” says Wilcox. “Our students fill out the rest of the roles. They are very accomplished dancers with some on the verge of joining a ballet company.”
This year, Wilcox has hired Vanessa Zahorian, principal ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet, Seth Orza, principal male dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Sarah Ricard Orza, soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet to fill those key roles.
If the marquee ballet names aren't enough, audiences can expect a live horse, a flying sleigh and even pyrotechnics in the battle scene.
“We are trying to dazzle and make it a fun experience,” he says. “Cameron Mackintosh [Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera producer] is my idol. He knows how to entertain people, that’s my inspiration.”
The production will sell over 15,000 tickets for two weekends of performances and the school benefits from the profits of ticket sales. Wilcox says the $700,000 budget for The Nutcracker is easily covered by the popularity of their annual event and the surplus subsidizes the school to keep tuition low for the students.
For those who have seen the Long Beach Ballet’s show before, expect even more from the upgraded scenery and a new magic illusion that is guaranteed to impress.
“If I envision elements to the story, I do it,” Wilcox sums up. “I’m an optimist. Every element of the ballet has been been about me envisioning this idea.”
The Long Beach Ballet’s The Nutcracker runs Saturday and Sunday Dec. 10-11 and Dec. 17-18 at The Long Beach Terrace Theatre. For tickets, call the Long Beach Ballet hotline at 877-852-3177 or visit Ticketmaster Online.