Take it easy this holiday season by getting your Nutcracker fix close to home.
Livermore and San Ramon Valley each will offer their own versions of the holiday classic for folks to enjoy in December.
"I would encourage everybody to see it. It's a magical production," Livermore Mayor John Marchand said of his city's production. "It's a first-class production. The Bankhead (Theater) is a beautiful place to see it in. It's so much easier to see it here in Livermore than to fight your way over the bridge. In 10 minutes, you can be back home in bed, and you don't have to deal with the traffic."
Marchand boasts not just because he's proud of the arts in his city, but because he's fortunate enough to have a small part in this year's production. He proudly plays Father No. 4, exercising the theater skills he first honed when he did musical theater in college.
"It's fun to get back onto the stage," Marchand said. "I love live theater. There's this wonderful dynamic between the audience and the players. That's where the real magic occurs."
Livermore's full-blown Nutcracker is performed by the Valley Dance Theater, which bills itself as the Tri-Valley's premier ballet company, and the Livermore-Amador Symphony. The production features dozens of local dancers of all ages who skillfully perform the Tchaikovsky classic.
"Our Nutcracker is unique in that we're one of the few companies that does a full Nutcracker with no professional dancers," said Heather Whitley, a Lawrence Livermore Laboratory physicist who's in the production. "Every single dancer that you see on stage is either a kid who takes dance classes or an adult who's doing this in their spare time."
The personal touch of featuring all local performers makes the production feel more accessible, Whitley said. You might see a neighbor, co-worker or your kid's classmate on stage.
"It's not just about the ballet technique," she said. "There's so much more going on. It has a different feel to it than you would get in San Francisco."
Whitley has been dancing since she was 10 years old. She took a break during her college years, but plunged back into dancing while doing graduate studies. She got involved with Valley Dance when she moved to Livermore in 2007.
While she has done other productions with Valley Dance, this is her first shot at "The Nutcracker." She plays four roles, including the key role of the Mouse King.
Whitley enjoys the concentration required in ballet because "I dance, and I forget about everything else because I have to focus on what I'm doing," she said. "It's a little different from running or taking a spin class when I'm thinking about work in the back of my mind."
While Livermore offers the full-blown Nutcracker, San Ramon Valley Dance Academy's "Impressions of the Nutcracker" offers a shorter, more fast-paced version of the traditional ballet.
"It's very family-friendly," said Holly Morrow, an academy teacher and director. "It follows the traditional story line of 'The Nutcracker,' but it incorporates a variety of dance styles. It takes all the best parts of Nutcracker and puts them forward. You get all of the exciting parts." The 75-minute show features a tap-dancing bear, a gymnastic harlequin doll and a mechanical ballerina.
The show has had many incarnations since the academy first started performing it 25 years ago for family and friends only. The popular show played at Danville's Village Theater for many years before a move to the new Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center.
"The production had expanded and blossomed into what it is today," Morrow said. "It's beautiful. We have dancers from the ages of 4 to 64."
San Ramon Valley High School senior Sarah Koepp, 17, started in "The Nutcracker" with a bit part eight years ago before nabbing the prime role of Clara in 2007. This year, she has the highly coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
"I am very honored, especially because it's very rare to be Clara and move to Sugar Plum," she said. "They're both key roles. Everyone knows who they are in 'The Nutcracker.' I'm going to try to make it as magical as it can be."
The dance academy borrows costumes from a professional ballet company, so the production truly has a first-class feel, Koepp said.
"What I admire most is the costumes," she said. "It really shows that we can play professionally, but still have a low-key show for families who may not be able to afford going into San Francisco."
The San Ramon Valley show features a little something extra -- a visit from Santa at the end of each \performance.
"It's an all-in-one family event," Morrow said. "My 6-year-old was enthralled, and my 70-year-old father-in-law was amazed. Sometimes you forget you're watching children, especially with our advanced dancers."
"The Nutcracker" by Valley Dance Theatre and the Livermore-Amador Symphony will be held Dec. 8 through Dec. 16 at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St. in Livermore with matinee and evening shows. Tickets are $34, $28 and $24 for adults, $18 for students 17 and younger. Buy them at www.bankheadtheater.com at the box office or call 925-373-6800.
"Impressions of The Nutcracker" by the San Ramon Valley Dance Academy will be held at Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center, 10550 Albion Road in San Ramon, on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 with matinee and evening shows. Tickets are $22 for adults and $19 for children under 12 and seniors, Buy them at www.sanramonperformingarts.com or call 925-973-2787.