IN A HISTORIC and creative pas de deux, the Oakland Ballet and the Peninsula Ballet Theatre are teaming up this year for a collaborative production of "The Nutcracker."
The Oakland Ballet has created visions of sugar plums in this perennial holiday favorite almost every year since 1972. This year, however, they are no longer under the wing of longtime artistic director Ronn Guidi, who retired in April. Guidi's sudden departure in the darkest moments of the recession led to the idea of collaborating with another ballet troupe.
The Peninsula Ballet Theatre was a good fit because it has a firm base in the Bay Area that does not overlap with Oakland audiences. Moreover, it has what will be a 15-year tradition of performing the holiday classic, Oakland ballet executive director Nicole Levine says.
The two companies will perform choreographer Carlos Carvajal's version of the holiday classic on both sides of the bay under the tutelage of Peninsula Ballet artistic director Bruce Steivel.
The 15th anniversary
The upcoming joint performance will mark the 15th anniversary of Carvajal's adaptation of the classic tale first set to music by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky in 1891.
"It's not just a Nutcracker sent from Russia," Carvajal points out. For example, in his version of the ballet, Clara continues to sleep instead of waking at the end of the story. "I wanted the audience to stay in the dream," says Carvajal, who will perform the role of enigmatic Herr Drosselmeyer opening night in both locales.
The choreographer has a long relationship to "The Nutcracker," beginning with his tenure at the San Francisco Ballet — which in 1944 became the first American company to stage a full production of the ballet. Carvajal began his career there and, in 1963, brought the first full-length production to France.
He returned to the Bay Area in time to help spark the dance renaissance of the 1970s as a master member of the San Francisco Ballet and founder of the San Francisco Dance Spectrum. He later served as artistic director of the Peninsula Ballet Theater.
He's no stranger
Oakland Ballet followers know Carvajal is no stranger to the East Bay company, which has performed some of his other works, including "Crystal Slippers" in September. That was yet another reason the collaboration with the Peninsula Ballet made sense, Levine says.
"The Nutcracker" opens this weekend in San Mateo, with Chris Christensen conducting the orchestra.
The production then moves to Oakland, where 2,000 tickets will be donated to Oakland schools and 1,500 complimentary tickets will be available to underserved families.
In keeping with Oakland tradition, Tchaikovsky's score will be performed at the Paramount Theatre by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, which agreed to a salary reduction. In addition, this year the Oakland Ballet offers donors who contribute $500 or more to join the Nutcracker dancers on the historic Paramount Theater stage. Tickets are 20 percent off with a donation of canned food for the Alameda County Food Bank; those tickets must be purchased, and donations made, at the Paramount Theatre box office.
The Dec. 26 and 27 matinees in Oakland also will be followed by the traditional Sweet Dreams party, which will feature light refreshments and Nutcracker characters posing for pictures and signing autographs. Separate tickets are required.
As for future collaborations, Levine said that decision will depend on which new artistic director is hired by the Oakland Ballet in early 2010. The company and its board of directors are reviewing candidates.