The little angels in our Nutcracker are our 7- and 8-year-old students,” said Berkeley Ballet Theater Artistic Director Emerita Sally Streets. “It’s nice for young audience members to see someone their own age up on stage.”
Streets choreograph-ed the theater’s Nutcracker—onstage this weekend and next at the Julia Morgan Theater on College Ave-nue—with her son, Robert Nichols, 25 years ago.
Berkeley Ballet Theater’s performances are family-friendly in many ways, from showtimes—matinees (often sold out) at 2, evenings at 7—to the intimate venue of the Julia Morgan Theater. “There’s a warm feeling in the audience—and there’s not a bad seat; none is far from the stage,” said Streets.
There’s also that “Berkeley slant” of social awareness to the story that Streets and Nichols tipped in, as Susan Weber, BBT’s associate artistic director, put it: the children in the story, taken from E. T. A. Hoffmann for Tchaikowsky’s ballet, “are homeless, cuddling in the cold, outside a well-to-do-party. The little girl has a dream of the fantastic events of the ballet—or is it a dream?”
Streets recalled the early days of their unique version of what’s become the Christmas classic of dance.
“It was built piecemeal,” she said. “We worked together. It’s got a helping message. The scenario was my son’s; it started as a small production he took into the schools for Young Audiences. We kept adding onto it. We had a small company then, of semiprofessional dancers. There were no children in it at first. As we enlarged, we used the children from the school in the production. It started to become what it is today in the 1990s. And we continue to change something each year. New costumes, new variations. Shepherdesses and little lambs have been added to the scenario. We have extra kids this year, so two little black sheep have been incorporated into the dance.”
Streets originally made all the costumes for the show. She also recalled local architect and artist David Ludwig painting scenery backdrops on silk, “which packed up easily.” Ludwig also served on the BBT board—and even danced the part of Drosselmeyer.
“It’s a very accessible ballet,” Streets commented. “It’s not too long—and moves right along. There’re always a lot of children in the audience.”
The school and company website (www.berkeleyballet.org) features preballet classes, with parental participation; classes for children and adults, as well as the youth company, to give young dancers group production experience. “We pride ourselves on our young dancers doing all the parts,” Streets said. “The advanced students take the lead roles. It gives them wonderful professional experience.”
Weber noted the cast ages run from seven years old through high school, and that “mostly male guest artists, from well-known Bay Area companies,” are often incorporated into the production.
She also mentioned BBT’s excitement over their new artistic director, Ilona McHugh. “She was with American Ballet Theatre, and has had a tremendous performing career, with worldwide touring experience. That level of professional experience is wonderful for our students.”
The motto on BBT’s website reads, “Where all may dance.”
Presented by Berkeley Ballet Theater at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 20 at Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. $24. 830-9524. www.berkeleyballet.org.