Members of the Benicia Ballet Theatre have been busy this week, as they prepare for the annual production of the Nutcracker this weekend.
There is a lot of buzz about all the changes this year. The production has moved from Maritime Academy to the Solano Community College Theatre. “The stage is much bigger with full rigging, lighting... it’s a professional theater,” says set designer Wes Muyco, who’s 16-year-old daughter dances in the company.
Retired from 28 years of construction, Muyco now takes stagecraft classes at Solano College. He originally got involved performing as a parent in the opening party scene. This year, Muyco took over the renovation and construction of sets and props. “This project has got an artistic side to it, it was on my bucket list,” says Muyco.
Muyco’s daughter Vivienne has been dancing since the age of 3. “Dancing lets me express my emotions,” says Vivienne. She hopes to become a professional dancer and own her own studio.“The biggest impact this year are the roles. A lot of the girls have moved up, me especially,” she says, speaking of her role of Sugar Plum Fairy, along with Anne Dubois. “I am terrified.”
Benicia Ballet Board member is performing for the first time this year. His daughter Luna performed the role of Clara last year. “This the first time we do the Nutcracker with live music,” says McCurdy. “It’s a big step for the dancers and the whole company. It does wonderful things for the dancers because they have to listen more. There is nothing like the relationship with live music to improve the quality of their dancing. It also moves them closer to being at a professional level.”
Music director Steve Thompson has coordinated a 50-piece orchestra. “Nobody is doing that around here. Its coming together quite nicely. We have two harps and a full brass section,” says Thompson. “It will be interesting because the orchestra will be on stage with the dancers instead of down in the pit.”
Thompson’s 10-year-old son Andrew and 6-year-old daughter Grace both dance. It’s Andrew’s second year, he is nervous about his six roles in the show. Andrew says. “Dancing is just fun for me. I just like it,” he says. His mom says it’s because he likes being on stage. Andrew has also been playing the violin since the age of 4. For the Thompsons, it's a family project. “My brother is in orchestra and my mom plays obo in the orchestra,” says Andrews.
Many of the dancers have been with the company for over a decade. Michaela Ebuen, 13, started at the age of 2. In 2008, she began point at the age of 10 and won the role of Clara. “I plan to do this a long time. Maybe I can go to San Francisco when I graduate high school,” says Ebuen who will be performing in the Nutcracker for the eighth time.
Artistic director Margaret Kenrick started with Benicia Ballet as a dancer. She was a Sugar Plum for ten years and has been with the company for 17 years. She and her husband took over the company when original director Jeanie Pors retired. “We wanted to keep it going because it is such a beautiful community,” says Kenrick.
Last year’s addition of a belly-dancing troupe was the new thing, but this year the excitement is the new venue. “We get to perform at Solano College with a unionized wonderful crew and have the live orchestra,” says Kenrick.
With so many parents having major roles in the production, the show truly is a family affair. Insurance consultant and ballet-dad Scott Bezanson never imagined he’d be performing as Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker. “My daughter Olivia is a cookie,” he says proudly. “It’s kind of fun.”
“It’s a community event,” says Kenrick. “Everybody has something to contribute to make it happen. Anyone who has something artistic to add value to the production has been allowed to do so.”
There are two full casts, one for daytime performances and another for evening. This year, the key role of Clara is being performed by Marie Cavalli and Maya Burckin.
Including parent performers, there is a cast of about 100 performers ranging in ages from 3 to 60-something. Kenrick and Assistant Director Jacqueline Zilka were in the original production 18 years ago when there were only six performers. This year the cast will fill the stage.
The Nutcracker will be performed this weekend only, at the Solano College Theatre. Evening shows are Friday and Saturday with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15 to $20, available online and at the door.