Arts & Entertainment Editor
Now that Thanksgiving has passed, Santa Barbara residents can look forward to two different productions of the Christmas favorite “The Nutcracker.” Both Santa Barbara Festival Ballet and State Street Ballet will bring the beloved show to life for only three performances each, so mark your calendars and buy your tickets now if “The Nutcracker“ is the next event on your holiday checklist.
Santa Barbara Festival Ballet accompanied by Elise Unruh’s live orchestra will perform on Dec. 8 and 9 at the Arlington Theatre while State Street Ballet, with the help of Opera San Luis Obispo Grand Orchestra and Gustafson Dance students, will take to the stage at the Granada Theatre Dec. 15 and 16.
Santa Barbara Festival Ballet is a school of dance dedicated to producing skilled dancers at every age-level. They have been putting on “The Nutcracker” annually for 44 years. The Santa Barbara Symphony’s current director, Elise Unruh, has been conducting the music for their show every year since 1993.
State Street Ballet, led and founded by Rodney Gustafson and co-directed by William Soleau, is celebrating its 24th season. Opera San Luis Obispo Grand Orchestra has had a similar lifespan, starting in 1985 and acting as the only professional opera company in the San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara region. The last contributor to their team — Gustafson Dance — is the school for the State Street Ballet dancers, ranging from young to old and novice to professional. With such a wide range of talent for both productions, “The Nutcracker“ is sure to impress audiences.
Unfortunately, however, the high admission price — with tickets ranging from $24 to $104 (both ranges combined) — will probably discourage many people from attending (including, I’m guessing, most of the TBL staff, justifying a preview rather than a review of the event for this article.)
Yet, the skill of both the Santa Barbara Festival Ballet students and the State Street Ballet’s professional dancers combined with The Santa Barbara Symphony and Opera San Luis Obispo Grand Orchestra’s trained musicians will probably excuse such a high fee.
Santa Barbara News-Press has previously called State Street Ballet “perfection in conception and execution” while the L.A. Times acknowledged that “State Street Ballet is proving that ballet is alive and kicking in Southern California.” The Santa Barbara Independent calls Santa Barbara Festival Ballet’s annual show an “amazing tradition.”
The choice to put on “The Nutcracker” is a traditional one around this time of year, but each company is sure to have different interpretations. For one, Santa Barbara Festival Ballet is a school of dancers, most of whom are children. State Street Ballet, in contrast, is a company of professional dancers and is only accompanied by their school’s younger children.
For those who need a refresher, “The Nutcracker“ follows young Clara and her enchanted toy nutcracker who comes to life at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” has remained a popular holiday play since its first showing in 1892, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Its most famous numbers include “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Departure of the Guests” which have been redone and referenced in countless other popular productions and Christmas comedies, including “Office Christmas Party,” “The Simpsons,” and “Daddy’s Home.” It’s safe to say that “The Nutcracker” is a cultural staple to Americans’ Christmas repertoire as it’s so widely reproduced and recognized.
For those interested, State Street Ballet’s “The Nutcracker“ is playing at the Granada Theater Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16 at 2 p.m. on both days and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Santa Barbara Festival Ballet’s productions are running at the same times on Dec. 8 and 9. Tickets are pricey, but both companies’ excellent reviews will probably make the shows worth the cost.