Oakland’s Paramount Theatre opens up a wealth of holiday presents as its two resident companies, the Oakland Ballet Company and the Oakland East Bay Symphony premiere their annual shows for the season: the Symphony’s Let Us Break Bread Together, and Ronn Guidi’s celebrated Nutcracker.
For Let Us Break Bread Together, the orchestra and conductor Michael Morgan will be joined by the Oakland Symphony Chorus, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir, klezmer band Kugelplex and Latin roots group Los Cenzontles, Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Nutcracker, with Oakland Ballet veterans and new dancers, accompanied by members of OEBS under Michael Morgan’s baton, runs for seven performances Dec. 18–24, including an All-Star matinee Nov. 20 with baseball great, former Oakland A’s manager Tony La Russa, Elaine La Russa, former 49er Jamie Williams, John Evans of KDFC radio and Frank Somerville of KTVU 2 TV.
And this weekend only, there’s Ronn Guidi’s “Secret Nutcracker,” five performances with his students from Oakland Ballet Academy, at Regent’s Theatre, Holy Names University, Oakland.
Michael Morgan talked about Let Us Break Bread Together, the Symphony’s popular holiday show of the past few seasons. “It’s kind of a compilation of various artistic directors. Even I don’t know exactly what it’ll be like until we do it. I’m seeing much for the first time!”
What’s brand-new for this show is the collaboration of Los Cenzontles. “We’re adding an element to the past programs with this Mexican musical group, which has quite a following. They’re bringing dancers, who will dance in the aisles while Los Cenzontles plays from the stage—there are so many people on that stage! All three choirs are by now old hands. Maybe the most special thing about the show is the Mt. Eden Choir; it’s unlike any high school choir you’ve ever heard. Their conductor is such a good teacher; the level of training is just beyond any expectation. Everybody is really singing.”
Morgan also spoke of the special feeling of the whole afternoon at the Paramount.
“There’s a real atmosphere of sharing, almost like at a potluck. Everybody brings what they have to the table for everybody else to enjoy,” he said. “It’s not so much that all the groups are performing together as that we’re performing for each other—something you see so little of onstage.”
Let Us Break Bread Together features performances of spirituals, classical and sacred music and other holiday favorites, including a few seasonal sing-alongs. Kugelplex adds some comic notes, last year coming up with a rendition of Rudolph’s Mitzvah.
Oakland Ballet Company’s production of Ronn Guidi’s Nutcracker marks the third year this beloved adaptation has been presented again at the Paramount under Guidi’s direction since the original Oakland Ballet folded in 2006, 38 years after Guidi founded it and just seven years after his retirement.
“The original company folding woke me up,” Guidi said. “It was my life work gone. But now I’m loving the opportunity to present dance again. This Nutcracker we’ve done since ‘72, and used to tour it all over the country.”
Michael Morgan commented on what makes Guidi’s version special: “Some run through The Nutcracker as fast as they can. But not with Ronn’s. It’s different every day, and with every principal, every pair. I don’t do The Nutcracker anywhere else. Ronn’s the most in pure charm around. There’re glitzier, flashier versions—and of course there’s The Hard Nut, which has Mark Morris’ genius, and is hilarious. But they reinforce each other: the more you see Ronn’s Nutcracker, the funnier The Hard Nut gets, and seeing The Hard Nut brings out the charm in Ronn’s Nutcracker even more.”
“Michael’s an old friend, great support and a devoted artist,” said Guidi. “Every performance has to have that living moment, and Michael always knows what each dancer needs.”
The Paramount show presents 25 dancers, including veterans Jenna McClintock, Denise Roman-Schmalle, Gianna Davy and Omar Shabazz, plus featured dancers Claire Lewis, Maia Mileff, Mario Vitale Labrador and Diego Rivera Garcia.
Commenting on the Ballet’s support for the Oakland Food Bank and Toys For Tots—each non-perishable food item or toy brought to the Paramount box office receives a 20 percent discount for adults or a $10 children’s ticket—Guidi said, “I didn’t exactly grow up in the flatlands, but down on MacArthur; I’m aware of everybody’s walk of life--and we have to do the walk!”
Only a few years after coming out of retirement, starting his Ronn Guidi Performing Arts Foundation and resuscitating the Ballet and Academy, Guidi reflected on the state of the arts and the holidays.
“At least the arts are still alive,” he said. “Historically, a culture without art implodes on itself. And every culture celebrated something this time of year. There’s something magical, and it can bring out the best in people.”
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13; 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14. Regent’s Theatre, Holy Names University, 3500 Mountain Blvd, Oakland.
$20 at the door or call Oakland ballet academy: 530-7516. rgfpa.org.
Let Us Break Bread Together
4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14 at the Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. $15-$40; under 18, $10. Ticketmaster.com or 625-8497. oebs.org.
Dec. 18-23 at the Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. $15-50. (Dec. 18- 19: community matinees, all seats $20; tickets available at Paramount box office only.)