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Westside Ballet Sells Out the Broad Stage for 9th Year in Residence

The performance company’s 49th Season of the Holiday Classic features dancers beyond the Westside

The longest-running Nutcracker production in SoCal returned Thanksgiving weekend to The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The second weekend is completely sold out, with a limited amount of tickets available at the box office one hour before their 1pm and 5pm shows, both Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3-4.

The cast of over 85 student dancers include 34 Santa Monica residents and students who grace the stage in Westside Ballet of Santa Monica’s annual Holiday production, which returned for the ninth year at The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.  This is the nonprofit performance company’s 49th Season.

Pre-professional dancer Ava Renshaw dances the solo role of Lead Angel in Westside Ballet’s annual ‘Nutcracker.’ She travels from Oxnard daily for rehearsals. Photo: Daniel Chiswick.

Students come to Santa Monica all the way from Oxnard and Calabasas in the North and Crenshaw and Mid City in the East, many times a week, for classes and rehearsals. 

An aspiring pre-professional dancer, Ava Renshaw (15) resides in Oxnard and is a sophomore at Ventura High School. This year she performs the roles of Lead Angel in several shows, as a Spanish dancer, and as well in two difficult corps de ballet roles in Tchaikovsky’s revered Waltz of the Flowers and mesmerizing Waltz of the Snowflakes. 

Linka Tiesiera (11) and Yara Johnson (10) are residents of Crenshaw and both attend 

Schools in West Los Angeles—Linka is in 6th grade at Paul Revere Middle School and Yara in 5th grade at Westside Neighborhood School in Playa Vista. Linka is performing in the roles of Party Girl, a menacing Mouse, and as an Angel. She is in Level 4 at Westside Ballet. Yara is Level 3 and this is her first Nutcracker, performing as a Red Soldier.  

Kings Sudio, Linka’s mother, says that although they don’t feel they drive that many miles to get from the ballet studio in East Santa Monica to their home at the cusp of Crenshaw and Culver, it can often take 50 minutes to get home, but it’s worth it for the training her daughter is receiving at Westside Ballet. “My daughter literally eats her dinner in the car. I have it prepped in tupperware, and she even often does her homework in the car using the light from her phone.” 

Linka says, “When you are truly passionate about dance like I am, you learn to give up a lot.  I really love rehearsing for the Nutcracker; it’s an amazing process and I learn so much from it. Martine is so passionate and has so much energy, even when I’m doing a step for the millionth time, she is interested and watching us.   I am always amazed at what I am capable of and find so much joy in dancing as well as watching my friends dance. It really is a special family atmosphere of very hard working and talented girls and artistic mentors.  My teachers are like family at this point. I feel so lucky to be part of it every year.”

Ava came from another ballet studio which recently closed down.  When asked about her experience dancing in Westside Ballet’s annual performance for the first time, she says, “Since this is my first year, I didn’t really know much about Westside. What I do know now, is that the people here are incredibly hard working and devoted to this amazing artform.” 

Ava also shares that although she travels a vast distance every day for class, she says it’s well worth the rewards: “Ballet is my meditation, it grounds me. If I had a stressful day, or I’m upset about something I know that once I get to dance everything else will just melt away. During class, you are so focussed on your corrections and the little details that you don’t have any space in your brain to think about anything else. And I know that by the time class is over I will be so tired that I won’t have any energy to think about what went wrong today or all the things that made my day rough, I will just be glad that I worked hard.  To me, the concept ‘Grace and Grit’ means to put in effort but don’t forget to enjoy it. It’s so important to work hard and put your all into ballet, but if you aren’t enjoying what you are doing then it can be very obvious.”

Crenshaw residents Yara Johson (Left) and Linka Tiesiera (Right) perform a variety of roles including Red Soldier and Victorian Party gIrl. They both attend school on the Westside and attend the Santa Monica ballet studio nearly every day. Photo: Daniel Chiswick.

Ava says she loves performing in yearly Nutcracker performances and loves being included in Westside’s production. “I love the feeling of Christmas that comes with the nutcracker. Everything is so festive and I love getting a peppermint mocha and then going to rehearsals. It’s just a time I associate with Christmas. I don’t know how to explain it but there is this moment when you are warming up on stage before your first performance where everything just feels right. Without the Nutcracker it just wouldn’t be Christmas.

“Every single year, as soon as rehearsal season starts, I get the music from the party scene stuck in my head. I always catch myself mindlessly humming it throughout the day. I have this snowglobe in my room that plays the song that all the party girls dance to and it drives my mom nuts because it’s constantly playing.”

The Los Angeles community has been celebrating the holidays with Westside Ballet’s rendition of the classic since 1973. Yvonne Mounsey, co-founder of Westside, or the role of Center Spanish at New York City Ballet. This is the full, classical ballet based on the story of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Marius Petipa version. 

The Westside production features 225 costumes and four elaborately designed scenes that have been modernized with new backdrops and accouterments over the years but retain the most beloved traditional characters and iconic moments, such as a growing Christmas tree, a firing cannon, and snow falling over a stunning corps de ballet.

Guest Principals 
Professional dancers Maté Szentes, Jack Virga Hall, and Evan Swenson are performing alongside the Westside Ballet performers. Hungarian born dancer & choreographer, Szentes will take center stage as the cavalier to the Sugar Plum Fairy. Swenson (Atlanta Ballet) has been a regular at Westside Ballet for a decade, and he’ll be performing the lead part of the Cavalier in “The Snow Queen” and the Arabian pas de deux. Hall will alternate with Swenson in the Arabian pas de deux. 

The Nutcracker Suite
An abbreviated performance is performed for 1,000 elementary school students in the Santa Monica-Malibu and Los Angeles Unified School districts. The ballet is narrated to ballet excerpts, followed by Q&A with the dancers. Performances are Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.

Community Outreach Preview Performance
On Friday, December 2, Westside Ballet will host a free preview performance for members of the local community and charitable organizations, including the Santa Monica Police Activities League, Taking the Reins, the Neighborhood Youth Association, Allies for Every Child, Vet Tix, the Venice Family Clinic, Everybody Dance!, A Place called Home, Community Corp of Santa Monica, Virginia Avenue Park, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

Past Productions
Many professional dancers have made their stage debuts in the Westside Ballet of Santa Monica’s Nutcracker over the past five decades, including Monique Meunier (NYCB, ABT); Anna Liceica (ABT); Joy Womack (Bolshoi Ballet, Kremlin Ballet Theater); Martine Harley (Houston Ballet); Melissa Barak (NYCB, Los Angeles Ballet, Barak Ballet); Andrew Veyette and Samuel Melnikov (NYCB).

Among the newest are: Adrian Blake Mitchell (Mikhailovsky Theatre); Shelby Tzung (National Ballet of Canada); Lucia Connolly (Joffrey Ballet); Molly Novak (Semperoper Ballett, Boston Ballet); Severina Wong (Ballet West); Giorgia Martelloni-Zabriskie (Dance Theater of Harlem); Sarah Hurty (Ballet Omaha); and Lyrica Brielle Blankfein Woodruff (Broadway’s Anastasia). 

Sponsors for the Nutcracker
The Nutcracker production is made possible in part by grants from the City of Santa Monica—with past grants from the Rotary Club and a LA County COVID-19 Arts Relief Fund—and from sponsorships from local Santa Monica individuals, businesses, and organizations such as Santa Monica College Public Policy Institute, The Huntley Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Lyft Scooters, Urth Caffe, Morley Builders, and more.

Nutcracker Dancers Receive College Credit for Performing
Under an education initiative launched in 2013, Westside’s dancers who are high school students concurrently enrolled in Santa Monica College dance course 59A will receive credit for the performances. The credits are transferable to any of California’s public four-year colleges and universities. 

Nutcracker Safety Measures:
Please read about safety measures here: westsideballet.com/nutcracker-safety-measures

The Nutcracker is being performed at The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Show dates and times: Saturday, Nov. 26, at 1 p.m. & 5 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1 & 5 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 3, at 1 and 5 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 1 and 5 p.m. All tickets are $50. Tickets are SOLD OUT for the second weekend, with a limited number available at the door one hour before performances.

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About Westside Ballet of Santa Monica – One of the nation’s premier pre-professional ballet training companies, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to give promising young dancers the performance opportunities so important to their development––as well as make dance more accessible to local children and families. Westside Ballet of Santa Monica was created by Yvonne Mounsey (New York City Ballet) and Rosemary Valaire (Royal Ballet) in 1973. Westside Alumna Martine Harley (Houston Ballet) took over as Artistic Director in 2013. Based in Santa Monica, California, the company comprises approximately 80 dancers, ages 8 to 18.

The sister entity, Westside School of Ballet, distinguishes itself as a non-audition academy where all are welcome to study ballet and train to the most refined pre-professional level. Nearly all the artistic staff are products of the school, bringing a consistent approach to classical ballet training. Ms. Mounsey and Ms. Valaire opened the school in 1967, six years before the founding of the performance company, and produced many of classical ballet’s luminary performers known worldwide. 

For more information, visit www.westsideballet.com

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