In its 10th year of production by the San Elijo Dance and Music Academy, The Nutcracker, now produced by SEDMA’s semi-professional arm, the West Coast Ballet Theatre, is the perfect way to nurture an appreciation for the performing arts in young family members.
BACKGROUND OF THE NUTCRACKER
The Nutcracker came to life in 1816 as a work of German playwright E.T.A. Hoffman. Entitled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, it told the tale of an unhappy girl named Marie whose only love was a nutcracker doll. In 1845, famed French novelist Alexandre Dumas adapted the play to make it more suitable for children; in 1891, his cheerier version became the basis of a Russian ballet scored by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Pepita and Lev Ivanov. The original ballet opened in Saint Petersburg, Russia on December 17, 1892. The ballet tells the tale of a girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker doll for Christmas from her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer. That night, she falls asleep and dreams she is under attack by an army of mice led by the Mouse King, who wishes to take her away to his kingdom. Clara is rescued by soldiers of the Nutcracker; when she kisses him, he becomes a prince. He whisks her through the Enchanted Forest, a land of sugarplum fairies and waltzing flowers and dancing snowflakes. In the morning, Clara awakens with her nutcracker doll and memories of her Christmas adventure.
This year, the role of Dream Clara is performed by Katie Critchlow, who appears as a courtesy of Ballet West of Salt Lake City, Utah; and the role of Dream Nutcracker Prince is performed by Rex Tilton, a Demi-Soloists, of the Ballet West. The role of Soldier Doll and Russian is performed by Nathan Trasoras from season six of FOX’s television hit "So You Think You Can Dance". Music for the ballet is performed live by the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra. For more than 50 years, this non-profit organization has provided gifted young musicians with an opportunity to study and perform the world’s greatest orchestral works under the guidance of experienced teachers and conductors. Practices are held at Palomar College in San Marcos, and symphony orchestra students embark on a performance tour every two years; this year, the students embarked on a 17-day tour of Australia and New Zealand. Civic Youth Orchestra ensembles have been recognized as among the most outstanding youth orchestras in California and nationwide.
WEST COAST BALLET THEATRE DIRECTORS | Lauri-Michelle and Benjamin Houk
Lauri-Michelle Houk completed her training as a student at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City. At age 18, she joined the Chicago City Ballet; there, the PBS documentary Balanchine’s Ballerinas featured Lauri-Michelle being coached by legendary dancer and teacher Maria Tallchief. In 1987, Lauri-Michelle danced for the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, where she performed a full repertoire of soloist and principal roles during her seven years with the company. She also performed with the Nashville Ballet as a principal dancer from 1997-98, where she excelled in celebrated roles including the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Most recently, as a director and coach, Lauri-Michelle has staged ballets by Tchaikovsky, Stowell, and Pepita.
Benjamin Houk began his career with Joffrey II and later joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, where he performed as one of the company’s most beloved principal dancers for 13 years. Gifted at dancing both contemporary and classical roles, he performed in a wide range of works including those by Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Stowell and Fosse’s Anne Reinking. Benjamin went on to lead both the Nashville Ballet and the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet as Artistic Director. Thoroughly experienced in Arts in Education programs as a director and lecturer, Benjamin has enthralled over 100,000 children nationwide. In addition, he has been a guest lecturer for Vanderbilt University, Microsoft, the Kennedy Center’s Imagination Celebration and others, and has served as a grants panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. Benjamin has choreographed over 25 works including The Nutcracker and Shout, performed in musical theater, film and television, and garnered popular and critical acclaim on three continents.
Together, Lauri-Michelle and Benjamin have been featured as guest artists in many performances, and have been master teachers at ballet and modern dance companies, schools and universities. In 2000, they founded San Elijo Dance & Music Academy, which has become the preeminent arts academy in San Diego’s North County. Many of the couple’s former students have gone on to attend the most prestigious schools and companies including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey, Twyla Tharp and Julliard.
Performance Photographs and Nutcracker Artwork Available on Request