HomeArtsCHS dancers intertwine ‘Nutcracker’ tradition with Carmel community

CHS dancers intertwine ‘Nutcracker’ tradition with Carmel community

Published Dec. 13, 2023

BY LAUREN GALICIA

From the extravagant costumes and jovial setting to the graceful dancers onstage, it’s no wonder why the Carmel community has fallen in love with “The Nutcracker” each winter, with many Carmel High School dancers involved year after year.

Performed this Dec. 8-10 at the Sunset Center, “The Nutcracker” is put on by the Monterey Peninsula Ballet Theatre, a nonprofit organization whose artistic director, Tia Brown Rosenblum, is also the co-owner along with Laura Jeselnick of The Dance Center in Carmel.

“We’ve seen [“The Nutcracker”] become a family and friend bonding experience,” Brown says. “We’ve seen an immense growth in the support, the attendance and just a love for the continued ability to bring such amazing arts and cultures to the Monterey Peninsula from our local youth.”

Leads in the Nutcracker elegantly pose, including CHS’ Kate Bunch (back left) as the Angel Queen, Liliana Biggs (back second) as the Dew Drop Fairy, and Dana Pfeiffer (back second right) as the Snow Queen. (courtesy of HEIDI BORGIA PHOTOGRAPHY)

This year’s performance marks MPBT’s sixth annual Nutcracker, completely unaffiliated with a prior production put on by the Dance Kids of Monterey in association with the Carmel Academy of Performing Arts, which closed in 2020.

Clara’s story of being whisked to a winter wonderland by the Nutcracker Prince, with a unique spin of Clara transforming into a princess in Act 2, all performed through ballet perfectly encompasses what the holiday season is all about for many CHS dancers.

“It’s fun to see all the magic come together,” says senior Kate Bunch, who has danced in four Nutcrackers and landed her first lead role as the Angel Queen. “All the little kids get so excited, and there’s so much cheer around the whole thing.”

For dancers of both Carmel High and TDC, “The Nutcracker” offers new experiences. At CHS under dance director Kristine Tarozzi, dancers cover a range of genres from contemporary to jazz throughout two dance shows a year. In “The Nutcracker,” dancers hone in on a specific genre of dance: ballet.

“Even though [CHS and MPBT] shows look different from each other, it’s a lot of the same people putting in the same amount of work, passionate about multiple forms of dance,” says junior Ella Gaily, the lead Reed Pipe, who has been dancing for 13 years. “Doing both showcases your versatility in what you’re willing to do.”

Rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” happen mainly on weekends from mid-September through early December. They can last two to three hours depending on the scene and role, not to mention the hours dedicated to dance for those with weekday TDC classes or on competition teams.

“Dance is such a big part of our lives,” says sophomore Liliana Biggs, the Dew Drop Fairy who leads the Waltz of the Flowers. “‘The Nutcracker’ is a great opportunity to perform onstage.”

Involvement of CHS dancers in “The Nutcracker” extends to past years, some examples being recent graduates Sage Melton and Maya Yamada.

Mouse Queen comes to life with Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker Prince defending Clara. (courtesy of HEIDI BORGIA PHOTOGRAPHY)

“There’s such a strong community that’s found within ‘The Nutcracker’,” says Melton, who has danced for 16 years, has been in 11 Nutcrackers and is currently majoring in dance at SUNY Purchase in New York. “That’s what the holiday season means to me—it’s a way I’m able to share dance with my community.” 

Melton and Yamada emphasize that dancers who stick with “The Nutcracker” develop, along with more challenging roles, responsibility and fondness for the mini soldier dolls or mini snowflakes that they once were years ago.

“You were in charge of the dancers that were underneath you,” says Yamada, who was part of 12 Nutcrackers. “I got to hang out with a lot of the younger dancers and even the minis. It was fun getting to watch them grow up and have a great time onstage.”

The long history of “The Nutcracker” tradition in the Carmel community can also be seen unexpectedly through Heather Roman, a CHS math teacher. A Carmel local and former dancer for CAPA, Roman herself never danced in the Dance Kids Nutcracker, but recalls River Elementary School field trips to the Sunset Center to watch the dress rehearsal and later, as a Carmel high schooler, watching her fellow dancers take on lead roles. 

For dancers onstage, “The Nutcracker” is an opportunity to take part in a grand performance hall such as the Sunset Center, and for parents, classmates and audience members, it’s a joyous kickoff to the winter season.

“It’s the confidence that builds, allowing students to [be onstage] with 720 people in the audience staring back at them,” Brown says. “[That’s] a very empowering feeling, and it gives them a sense of giving back as well as a personal growth and accomplishment.”

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