Stepping Out

'Nutcracker' season is upon us

Alvaro Ponce/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos High School’s Susan Clay plays Clara in last year’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

It’s official “Nutcracker” season, as local dancers are ramping up rehearsals for their annual winter showcases.

Mountain View’s Pacific Ballet Academy is among the dance schools embracing the tradition. Its 29th annual production of “The Nutcracker” is scheduled Friday through Sunday at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.

Along with the standard performance, Pacific Ballet will offer a pair of one-hour children’s shows and a sensory-sensitive performance.

Each children’s show consists of either Act I or Act II of the production to accommodate little ones who aren’t yet to ready to sit through the entire performance.

Diana Lee, a parent volunteer who oversees Pacific Ballet’s publicity, said the children’s show has “proven very popular” throughout the years.

Pacific Ballet this year introduced the sensory-sensitive show for those with special needs and others who may want to experience a less-intense production of “The Nutcracker.”

“Typically, we will dim the stage lights and turn down the music volume so it isn’t too over-whelming for the audience,” said Catherine McGrath, a senior at Los Altos High School who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The holiday classic features main character Clara wielding a sword to fight the Mouse King and his mice.

“It has become such a part of the holiday tradition, and children really are enthralled by the story,” Pacific Ballet co-director Rima Chaeff said. “Clara, the young girl lead, goes through a journey from being a young child to having to face and vanquish a fearful enemy. She is then rewarded for her bravery by traveling through a magical snowy winter land to the Land of Sweets, where many dancers perform dances from around the world.”

However, the production doesn’t come together with a snap of the fingers. It takes months of hard work and dedication from the dancers, their families and the faculty to create a smooth-running performance, according to Lee. Preparation for the ballet begins over the summer, and auditions for major roles take place in September.

“There are many areas to cover, including hundreds of costumes, sets, backdrops, music and someone to call the show, giving cues for all actions onstage, including lights and music,” co-director Marion Chaeff said.

As “Nutcracker” preparation progresses, dancers’ daily schedules tighten as they juggle school and rehearsals that increase as they near their performance date.

“Depending on the week, I’ll have about 9-10 hours of class and an extra 3-6 hours of rehearsal time,” McGrath said. “By mid-November I’ll be at the studio for upwards of 15 hours per week.”

Susan Clay, a Los Altos High freshman who played Clara last year, said dealing with schoolwork while attending classes and rehearsals can be challenging.

“Managing school (homework) and ballet is hard,” she said. “Good time management is essential, and procrastinating when you need to be working can land you in serious trouble. However, with a strong work ethic and good organization, it is manageable.”

Stella James, who plays Clara this year, agreed.

“I really love ballet, but I also think good grades are also very important,” she said. “Being pro-ductive and knowing how to plan out my work ahead of time really helps me go to bed at 12 instead of at 1 or 2.”

Performances are scheduled 6 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. (children’s show, Act II), 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. (children’s show, Act I), 1 p.m. (sensory-friendly show) and 4 p.m. Sunday.

For tickets and more information, visit

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