On stage, the return of ‘The Nutcracker’ and the birth of a ballet company


The “Nutcracker” ballet has a long history, which begins with a disappointment and ends with a surprising success.

Critics vilified the Russian premiere of 1892, declaring the Sugar Plum fairy too big, the battle scene awkward, and the costumes bland. Even Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who composed the familiar score, considered the show “rather boring”.

The San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet versions of “The Nutcracker” elevated work with exceptional choreographers and dancers, and by the 1960s it became a staple of canon ballet and an annual Christmas classic. .

The brand new Golden State Ballet intends to follow this path by presenting “The Nutcracker” at the San Diego Civic Theater.

Last year, the pandemic prevented the organization of the annual extravagance of vacations at the 3,000-seat site.

And that was the impetus for change.

“The resounding thought was, ‘How do we save’ The Nutcracker ‘,” said Golden State Ballet artistic director Raul Salamanca.

“I think that for us not to go there would be a travesty. Really, that’s what we decided to do.

Salamanca began rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” in October at the Golden State Ballet Academy, the ballet and Pilates training center he opened with his wife, Cindy Huang, in 2018.

Artistic Director Raul Salamanca watches Murillo Barbosa and Miranda Giles rehearse for Golden State Ballet’s upcoming “The Nutcracker”.

(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘Dance like when you were a kid’

Inside the Grantville studio, Salamanca stood with his back to a wall of mirrors, facing dancers stationed on freestanding bars in the middle of the room.

He selected a classical piano music track and demonstrated an energetic but precise “chased (to chase) to the fourth position and folded”.

As the dancers repeated the phrase of the movement, he punctuated the rhythm with an occasional finger snap or hand clap.

“You are already building momentum,” he stressed during a pause. “Use the energy of movement to your advantage. The only thing that uplifts us are the little details. Stop thinking about the individual steps. When you get technical, you get cold feet. Dance like when you were a kid.

Salamanca was 12 when his family, including two brothers and a sister, moved from Puerto Rico to Florida in 1992. He said he was still trying to find out if he found dancing or if dancing had it. find.

But Salamanca says mentors in his life, such as ballet master Frank Galvez and the late artistic director Magda Auñon, have helped him believe in the possibility of a lifelong career.

“These people were so dedicated to their art form,” Salamanca recalled. “And they taught me to love him. Once the success started to happen and I started to be recognized as a full-fledged dancer, it changed everything for me.

“I knew when I was 15 that I wanted to become a professional dancer and nothing could stop me. In ballet, if you don’t mind working really hard, then ballet can become a great way for you to feel like you are part of something special.

As a professional dancer, Salamanca has performed internationally and in organizations such as Ballet Arizona, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, Ballet San Antonio and Boston Ballet.

At Boston Ballet, artistic director Mikko Nissinen encouraged Salamanca to invest in its future by teaching, choreographing and performing ballets on a large scale.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bug and have always loved business,” said Salamanca.

“Growing up in the 80s and 90s was the American dream.”

Amandine Isidro, Amara Duke and Sophia Dimmick rehearse for the next Golden State Ballet

Amandine Isidro, Amara Duke and Sophia Dimmick rehearse for the next Golden State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”.

(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

New start

The American dream began to come true when Salamanca met his wife, Cindy, a Taiwanese guest dancer, at the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal in Canada. They got married three years ago and are expecting their first child. They both teach at Golden State Academy and last year received the Outstanding Teacher Award at the Youth America Grand Prix, while many of their students placed in the top categories.

In April of this year, the couple won the “Outstanding School Award” from the YAGP.

More than 50 students from Golden State Academy will perform in “The Nutcracker,” which opens for a week-long engagement Thursday.

It’s a lavish million-dollar production and monumental effort, even for well-established companies, featuring snowfall, jeweled costumes, and a mix of highly skilled professional dancers and young students.

“The Nutcracker” was last performed at the Civic Theater in 2019 by the California Ballet, known for hosting their annual holiday production for decades.

California Ballet founder Maxine Mahon retired from the performer branch of the company in 2018, but she continues to maintain her for-profit California Ballet School.

In the fall of 2020, the California Ballet offered leadership positions in Salamanca and Magda O’Neill, former director of personnel for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.

Salamanca and O’Neill seized the opportunity to oversee a professional entertainment company, but the financial and physical impact of the pandemic has compromised any form of dance, from rehearsals to staging shows, including “Breakout- Hazelnut “from last year.

Despite the gloomy COVID-19 climate, Salamanca and O’Neill realized that by implementing their combined skills, they “could get things done” and they made decisions with the future in mind.

“We knew that in order to move forward with a ‘Nutcracker’ we had to start a new company,” said O’Neill, who is the executive director of the Golden State Ballet.

“We started this spring. On the donor side, we’ve asked some people to write fabulous checks to get us started, and we’re so grateful. Now we have a board of directors and a company of paid dancers. We can’t wait to open with ‘The Nutcracker’.

In addition to accompaniment by the San Diego Symphony, “The Nutcracker” is enhanced by spectacular ballet duets that are technically challenging, requiring a level of strength and skill that makes these lead roles effortless.

Watch out for the Sugar Plum fairy, who dances with her knight knight in the Grand Pas de Deux, the royal and dignified Snow King and Queen, and the couple performing the athletic and sultry Arabian dance.

Salamanca and O’Neill hope to see the Golden State Ballet become an integral part of the community, with dancers representing diversity, collaborations with other arts organizations, world-class productions and outreach programs.

“I want everything to go well,” Salamanca said. “It’s something I want to give to the city. There are all these different cogs in a machine that have to work together like an orchestra for us to be successful. I want a destination company that makes dancers want to come to San Diego. I want the business to prosper. I want everything.”

The Golden State Ballet presents ‘The Nutcracker’

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16-17 and 21-22 Dec .; 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on December 19; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. December 18 and 23

Or: San Diego Civic Theater, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego.

Tickets: $ 25 to $ 109

Call: (619) 241-2565

In line: goldenstateballet.org

COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination required or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the show or rapid antigen test performed by a healthcare professional within 12 hours of the show. Masks compulsory inside.

Luttrell is a freelance writer.

Golden State Ballet's Jeremy Zapanta and Tiffany Smith rehearse for upcoming

Jeremy Zapanta and Tiffany Smith of the Golden State Ballet rehearse for the upcoming “The Nutcracker”.

(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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