Story by Taylor Micaela Davis
You could be a child ballerina, an adult theater enthusiast or just a somewhat culture-savvy individual—chances are you’ve either seen, performed in or heard of The Nutcracker, a ballet that is no stranger to film, storybook or television re-imaginings and adaptations. Such an indispensable part of the holiday season, The Nutcracker has its own way of leaving a mark on people’s memories, from the excitement of their first step on stage to their guffaws when something goes wrong.
For myself, it was the saucer-eyed childhood amazement (and immediate perplexity) of how a tree could augment so drastically without water and sunlight. Couple that with my inability as a child to crack a nut (sadly, true) while almost destroying my mother’s own nutcracker collection, and it’s no wonder I can’t look at that white-haired wooden man without returning to my youth.
Santa Barbarans have their own heartstring tugs when they think of The Nutcracker, but one thing is certain: this symbol of the holidays is something that binds us all together.
“Desmond O’Neill…was decked out in his gray ‘Rat King’ tights for dress rehearsal one year when the lights went out. Against all rules of theater, he attempted to leave the stage in the dark and took a dive into the orchestra pit and collided with the kettledrum. Slight damage to the drum, and slight damage to Desmond. The trip to emergency was reported to have involved contact with Cottage Hospital ER reporting an ‘incoming rat.’”
—Carla O’Neill, the Rat’s wife
“Growing up in NYC, I was fortunate to be able to see The Nutcracker for a number of years at Lincoln Center. Most memorable, though, was when I was in fourth grade…and saw my classmate Anna on the stage as a Nutcracker soldier.”
—Helene Schneider, Santa Barbara Mayor
“One day when I was eight years old, I was waiting backstage, sitting on a dusty couch outside of our dressing rooms. The conductor (who was considered a genius) sat down next to me. I asked him if he ever had the idea to conduct with a rose. He said he’d have to try it one day. During our last performance, while I was on stage holding my position on one knee, I glanced into the orchestra pit and saw [him] conducting with a long-stemmed rose!”
—Sophie Leddick, MCA Santa Barbara
“My husband was asked…to play the (small) part of the grandpa in Ellen Schipper Studio’s annual production. He CANNOT dance. He CANNOT keep a beat. But there he was, onstage, trying to do both. After it was over, a friend of mine came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know your husband took ballet!’ He has not ‘danced’ in The Nutcracker again.”
“During the battle scene, a little boy’s loud voice from the audience: ‘He got him!’”
—Ellen Schipper, West Coast Ballet
“When I was six, living in New York City, my parents took me to see George Balanchine in The Nutcracker. I thought everyone lived like this! I remember the performance because it was the first time I saw children on stage.”
“My husband and I attended a production of The Nutcracker in St. Galan, Switzerland…it was weird to say the least. Two women played the lead. The first half, the heavily endowed lady almost knocked the male lead off his feet each time she took a run toward him. After intermission, the second lead took the stage, and the male was able to toss her around like a stick doll. It was a little hometown production, but we did get some laughs.”
“Every year since [I began ballet training in SB at six] I have been involved in The Nutcracker. Each year I would watch the principal ballerina perform the role of the sugar plum fairy in awe of her beauty and grace. Last year I was lucky enough to…guest as the sugar plum fairy for the first time … I felt so honored to dance in such a special role that so many girls dream of performing.”
Originally published in the Winter 2013/14 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.
Editor’s Note: State Street Ballet will perform The Nutcracker on Saturday, December 21 at 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. and on Sunday, December 22 at 2 p.m. at the Granada Theatre, 1214 State St. To purchase tickets call 805/899-2222 or click here.