Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Curtains at Inland Pacific Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

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-Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

Local Company Celebrates 20th Anniversary, Rehearses for Holiday Performances
Starting on Nov 29 at the Arcadia Performing Arts Center

By Courtney Blackburn

On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, I traveled twenty minutes into San Bernardino-specifically, 5050 Arrow Highway, Montclair-to take a peek “behind the curtains” at Inland Pacific Ballet, one of Southern California’s premier professional ballet companies, which is gearing up to perform holiday favorite ballet, “The Nutcracker,” all the way from Arcadia to Riverside.
Critically acclaimed Inland Pacific Ballet is bringing “The Nutcracker” to life with dazzling sets, beautiful costumes, and nearly 100 dancers on stage. The annual holiday favorite tells the story of a young girl named Clara who receives a magical nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve, and sets out on a wondrous journey to the Land of the Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets. A fantastic dream with battling mice, dancing snowflakes, waltzing flowers, and the delightful Sugar Plum Fairy are certain to stir the imagination!

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– Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

Hiding inside a large, industrial exterior, IPB is located in a former warehouse that used to be used for making motor homes in the 1940s-1950s. “They used to hang chassis from the beams!” smiled Victoria Koenig, the delicate and calmly competent co-founder and artistic director of IPB. “The middle section used to be a gym. We’ve been encroaching steadily about every seven years, expanding our studios.”
The warm hardwood floor inside the foyer was flooded with color-students in leotards and tights of all hues sprawled and stretched on the floor (and walls!), laughing, chattering, and peeking in the studio viewing windows at their fellow dancers hard at work inside. On the walls, flyers, casting calls, schedules, and some truly lovely canvas-wrapped photos of professional dancers caught the eye. One of the lovely ballerinas in the canvases, Kelly Lamaroux, is now a ballet mistress, and indeed was currently inside the studio, teaching.

Slipping past another large studio, a Pilates room dedicated to training and injury prevention, and a beautifully crammed little store with everything a dancer could want in vibrant color (Arlene, one of the parents, sub-lets and runs the store); Victoria brought me to the dancer’s lounge, a tiny room sandwiched between studios with a comfy couch or two and a vending machine. Before sitting down, she picked up a water bottle and used tissue-“dancer’s droppings” was the technical term she used-and made sure everything was spic and span.

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-Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

Inland Pacific Ballet was founded in 1994 by Victoria and Kevin Myers, associate director. It’s their 20th anniversary, and they’re still celebrating.

I asked Victoria about managing the artistic, creative side of ballet along with keeping it growing as a business. Victoria chuckled lightly, and considered. “Art and business…I’d say 30-40% of my time is spent in the studio; the rest networking, organizing, dealing with finances, casting, and doing the ‘business’ of running a professional company.” She added, “Kevin builds scenery, studios-and he is an extraordinary dancer. He can come in from welding, and give a beautiful performance!”

IPB consists of about 15 professional dancers (pre-recession, around 21) and “apprentices”-the most dedicated and advanced students from the Inland Pacific Ballet Academy. Most ballet companies have a school attached-the Academy is for profit, but the professional company is not. Academy students often end up being professionals with the company. The ultra-famous ballet master George Balanchine called ballet school the “backbone” of the company. “It’s a lovely synergistic operation,” said Victoria. The apprentices take six technique classes, two pointe classes, and a few more training sessions for a total of around 20-22 hours a week.

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Cameron Schwanz and Meilu Zhai. – Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

Ballet is intense-so much so that many call it a lifestyle. Victoria herself estimated that she works 11 hours a day. “At a heightened level, everyone cares so much.”

Indeed; the ladies busily working on Clara’s party dress in IPB’s costume department were all volunteers. Most of them are moms who just love being involved. Jean Nolden, one of the volunteers, told me she got into sewing for the ballet because, “My girls danced a lot. I’m not a seamstress, but most of it I learned by doing. In my generation, everyone knows how to sew. It’s fun!”

The joys of dancing seem to be celebrated by everybody at IPB, behind the curtains as well as on stage.
Erin Rivera-Brennand of Hollywood, a principal dancer who will be portraying the “Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Dewdrop Fairy,” told me that her favorite part of this particular ballet was her finale pas de deus. “It’s going to be really nice to have all the shows to perform-we can really dig into our performances.”

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– Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

In other favorite-performance-opinions, a charming gaggle of students stretching outside in the foyer added theirs: Maria Lentz, Mackenzie Owen, Danielle Meza, Bella Hamm, Isabel Petropoulos, Karyn Real, Ivanna Roque, and Raegan Enda almost all liked best being icicles in the Snow Dance-“Because we like the energy-sharpness of movement!” while two holdouts preferred the Chinese Dance. Or was it the beginning Party Scene, where they get to twirl the mirletons? No matter what they preferred, the girls were united in informing me that ballet is hard work: “Lots of rehearsals, sacrifice,” “You have no teenage life–you give up part of your childhood,” and “Everybody looks at you funny in a leotard!” But when I asked them if it was worth it; if they wanted to be professional ballerinas when they grew up, the answer was a loud and unanimous “YES!”

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– Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

And ballet isn’t just for the ladies. Sterling Vieau, 11-year-old talent who will be portraying “Fritz,” Clara’s younger brother, let me know: “Ballet couldn’t happen without the boys. Who would lift the girls? People don’t think that, but it’s very true.” And his favorite is a tombé pas de bourré, a series of rapid steps.

I ended my tour with San Dimas resident Sandra Woranitikosol, who is the Chinese Dance soloist (as well as the Orphanage Director, a Snowflake, a Spanish Dancer, and a Rose depending on the scene), and who told me that IPB is her second home. As for this coming performance of “The Nutcracker,” she said, “I’m really excited! We have more shows, a new theatre, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun!”

This echoed what Victoria Koenig told me earlier: “My hope for the show is that when people come, they love it. All the dancers will be in the lobby afterward for a meet and greet. We hope they will fall in love with ballet and come to see other stories expressed through ballet.”

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-Photo by Zuleyka Araiza

From the classic “Giselle” created in 1838 to the 2004 IPB original “Dracula,” this art form is going strong, and Inland Pacific Ballet is growing–and hopes to expand to the San Gabriel valley, bringing excitement, entertainment, and most of all, the love of dance.
Start a holiday tradition and see “The Nutcracker” at:
-Arcadia Performing Arts Center, 188 Campus Drive, Arcadia, CA 91007
Saturday, November 29, 2014 2:00 pm
Sunday, November 30, 2014 2:00 pm
-Lewis Family Playhouse, 12505 Cultural Center Drive, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91739
Saturday, December 6, 2014 1:00 pm & 7:00 pm
Sunday, December 7, 2014 1:00 pm
-Bridges Auditorium, Pomona College, 450 North College Way, Claremont, CA 91711
Saturday, December 13, 2014 1:00 pm & 7:00 pm
Sunday, December 14, 2014 1:00 pm
Saturday, December 20, 2014 1:00 pm & 7:00 pm
Sunday, December 21, 2014 1:00 pm
-Fox Performing Arts Center, 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501
Saturday, December 27, 2014 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Information and Tickets are available at ipballet.org; tickets from $38 with senior/child/group discounts available. Who knows? After seeing “The Nutcracker,” Inland Pacific Ballet Academy may be the place your little ballerina (or danseur) wants to go!
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The Nutcracker and Soldiers – courtesy photo by E.Y. Yanagi

November 19, 2014

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