Who’s Behind the Magic? A deeper look at three North State holiday productions

© Lisa Shara; published in North State Parent, December 2013
The North State offers numerous holiday productions, as evidenced in our Going Places events calendar. We took the time to find out about the creative force behind three of them:

Redding City Ballet: The Nutcracker

Mother Ginger and the Peppermints in The Nutcracker. Photo: Redding City Ballet.

Mother Ginger and the Peppermints in The Nutcracker. Photo: Redding City Ballet.

In Redding, the Redding City Ballet (RCB) presents The Nutcracker, a classic family holiday ballet that audiences love.

“Every year we try to add something new to the production,” says Diana Christensen, the company’s artistic director. This level of creativity is one reason RCB’s Nutcracker is a much-anticipated North State holiday tradition.

Last year’s audience was amazed by a new character, “Mother Ginger,” whose costume is so large that wearing it requires the dancer to balance (and perform) on stilts as the costume is lowered onto him/her from above. The antics of young dancers, the “Peppermints,” who emerge from Mother Ginger’s skirt, add to the humor.

Among this year’s surprises, look for an enchanted clock … when the clock strikes midnight, something magical will happen.

The RCB Nutcracker has a cast of 40 to 50 performers. Diana shares that this year’s cast “are fantastic dancers – we have a really strong core group.” RCB’s younger company dancers take daily classes, sometimes for hours, year-round. “They do it because they love to train; they love getting better,” says Diana. “They make it look effortless,” she adds. A visiting observer, after watching a class, sums up the level of commitment: “They are seriously ballet ninjas in there!”

Joyful dancers in The Nutcracker. Photo: Redding City Ballet.

Joyful dancers in The Nutcracker. Photo: Redding City Ballet.

Cindy Michaels is the company’s ballet master. “She inspires the dancers,” explains Diana. “Cindy’s passion and her skill in training brings out the best in each dancer. She’s very good at what she does, and that shows in the performances.” With the level of focus and encouragement the company provides, it’s not uncommon for Redding City Ballet dancers to move on in the realm of professional dance. “That’s exciting,” says Diana. “A lot of these dancers have been with us since they were little girls, and it’s fulfilling to see them achieving their dreams.”

Former company members often stay connected, and some return to dance in productions. In this year’s Nutcracker, Nicolina Lawson returns to dance the role of the Sugarplum Fairy. Nicolina began dancing with the Redding Ballet Academie as a child, and her professional dance career includes performances with the Redding City Ballet, Teatro De La Danza Italia in Italy, and Alaska Dance Theatre. She currently lives in Alaska and dances with Momentum Dance Collective.

Two young "Peppermints."   Photo: Redding City Ballet.

Two young “Peppermints.”
Photo: Redding City Ballet.

Daniel Arizmendi plays the role of Cavalier. Daniel is a former RCB principal dancer as well as choreographer. He currently teaches dance at studios in the San Francisco Bay Area, performs all over the United States, and teaches master classes for dance companies, schools and universities. His dance background is too extensive to list here; find out more about Daniel in his staff bio online at www.dancethezone.com.

Nutcracker performance dates are Dec. 7 (3pm) at the Trinity Alps Performing Arts Center in Weaverville, and in Redding Dec. 13 (7:30pm) and Dec. 14 (2pm and 7:30pm) at the Cascade Theater. Also on Dec. 14, a Children’s Sugarplum Tea follows the matinée performance; children can meet the characters, get autographs, and enjoy special treats – it’s free for anyone attending the matinée.

On Dec. 21 (time TBA) Redding City Ballet treats Red Bluff to a production that includes acts from the Nutcracker, plus other dance performances, at the State Theatre.

Tickets are $10-$28. For more information, visit www.thereddingartsproject.com.


Cinderella and her animal friends. Photo: Chico Community Ballet.

Cinderella and her animal friends. Photo: Chico Community Ballet.

Chico Community Ballet: Cinderella

Cinderella comes to CSU, Chico’s Laxson Auditorium for four December performances presented by Chico Community Ballet (CCB). The ballet features over 50 dancers, with company dancers ranging in age from 6 to 25, plus additional dancers from the community.

The production features spectacular sets, colorful costumes, amusing choreography, and Sergei Prokofiev’s dreamlike score.

Last performed by Chico Community Ballet in 2007, Cinderella has special meaning to artistic director Deborah Jorritsma, who is thrilled to bring the production to the stage once again. She’s been with CCB for over 30 years, and says that seeing the ballet as a child is what sparked her lifelong passion for dance and performance – in turn she strives to make the ballet an inspiring and memorable experience for children and adults alike. “Cinderella has a special place in my heart, and I hope that comes across in the production,” Jorritsma says.

Special guest Kenny Borchard stars in the role of the Prince. A dancer since age 11, Kenny performs all over the U.S. and is a member of Solevita Dance Company in Los Angeles. Borchard, dancing with CCB for the first time, says he is looking forward to challenging himself in new ways with the role.

Cameryn Titus stars as Cinderella. Having danced with Chico Community Ballet since age 4, Cameryn played the role of Cinderella in 2007. “She’s a beautiful dancer, and it is an honor to have her come back to play this role again,” says Jorritsma. Inspired by physical therapists she met while enrolled in a ballet intensive with the Boston Ballet, Cameron recently received her doctorate in physical therapy while continuing her dance training.

The Fairy Godmother dances in Cinderella. Photo: Chico Community Ballet.

The Fairy Godmother dances in Cinderella. Photo: Chico Community Ballet.

A touching element of this year’s production is the evolution of young company dancers who performed simple roles in the 2007 production, and who are dancing more challenging roles this season. “It’s amazing to watch kids train that seriously,” Jorritsma says. Being a part of that progression is a special thing for their teachers, along with CCB associate director Catherine Sullivan.

For Jorritsma, bringing a classical ballet into the 21st century is a challenge she wholeheartedly embraces, “Each time I approach a ballet, I seek a fresh creativity that breathes new excitement and new life into a production. Not only for me as a choreographer, but for the dancers.”

Clearly the dancers inspire … and so does the musical score. It was the music that inspired Jorritsma to create the scene of Cinderella dancing with her animal friends. And with over 300 versions of the Cinderella story written through history, there is plenty of magic to be found in the tale. From animals helping to create a dress for Cinderella before her Fairy Godmother appears, to a woodland fairyland, to pumpkins that change into carriages, ultimately this ballet reflects a timeless tale about the transformative power of love.

As a special treat, children will be able to meet characters from the ballet at an autograph party following Saturday’s matinee performance.

Presented by Friends of the Chico Community Ballet and Chico Performances, Cinderella performance dates are Dec. 13 (7:30pm), Dec. 14 (2pm, followed by an autograph party, and 7:30pm) and Dec. 15 (2pm). Tickets are $16-$28 and can be purchased online at www.chicoperformances.com or by calling the University Box Office at (530)898-6333.

New Frontier Theatre Company: The Salvation of Mr. Scrooge: An Evening with Charles Dickens

Actor Bennett Gale moved to Siskiyou County five years ago, following an impressive history of performing in theater productions in New York. Last January, Bennett established the New Frontier Theatre Company (NFTC), with a two-fold focus of performance and education.

The company currently has 15-20 members and is scheduling its 2014 performance season, with productions ranging from small to large. NFTC is also working on developing the company’s educational component. With plans to offer more classes at the start of 2014, the company is raising funds to enable NFTC to bring theatrical arts opportunities into schools, providing primary experiential classes for schools that don’t have a theater arts program, and supplemental master classes for schools that do have an existing program.

NFTC’s historical classes offer educators the unique opportunity of bringing a historical character and era to life. For example, in a school assembly program, a character such as Thomas Edison will take the stage and dialog with students.

In December, NFTC presents a production in a similar format to the community at large, in The Salvation of Mr. Scrooge: An Evening with Charles Dickens. This classic one-man show is directed by Bill Counts and acted by Bennett.

Bennett Gale as Charles Dickens. Photo: New Frontier Theatre Company.

Bennett Gale as Charles Dickens. Photo: New Frontier Theatre Company.

Set in 1843, the audience meets Charles Dickens as if they are all personal friends of Dickens, watching him present his latest work. This entertaining experience evokes his sense of humor, passion for storytelling and humanitarian perspective, bringing the spirit of Dickens alive.

Two special field-trip performances for school classes are being presented December 17 and 18 at the College of the Siskiyou Kenneth Ford Theater in Weed.

Public performances are held Dec. 5 (7pm) in Yreka at St. Mark’s Preservation Square; Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14 (7pm) and 15 (2pm) in Mt. Shasta at Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum; Dec. 8 (2pm) in Dunsmuir at Siskiyou Arts Museum; and Dec. 21 (7pm) in Etna at Avery Theatre.

Tickets are $11 and are available in advance at Nature’s Kitchen in Yreka, or in Mt. Shasta at Village Books, the Chamber of Commerce and Sisson Museum. Visit the NFTC website for more information: www.newfrontiertheatrecompany.com.

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