Having rehearsed for months to put on 12 Nutcracker performances for younger audiences and eight performances showcasing the ballet in either a classic or hip-hop-style, the Peninsula Ballet Theatre is ready to immerse thousands in the land of sugar plum fairies and snowflakes in the coming weeks.

Christine Leslie, executive director of the San Mateo-based nonprofit, knows from experience it can take different avenues for audience members to travel to the fanciful setting of the Nutcracker, which is why the Peninsula Ballet Theatre has been hard at work creating three versions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s two-act ballet.

For the last seven years, the Peninsula Ballet Theatre has been offering the “Nutcracker Sweet,” a 45-minute rendition of the ballet geared toward children ages 5 to 8, said Leslie. This year will also be the fourth year the company will provide Bay Area residents an opportunity to see Tchaikovsky’s score come to life with hip-hop beats, noted Leslie, who is driven by the hope that an experience with at least one of the shows can serve as a gateway to a lifelong appreciation for the classic ballet.

“It’s important to us that this year we are doing something for everyone, not just the tried and trues, but to reach out and do something for our entire community,” she said. “Great entertainment and great art is great entertainment and great art, it doesn’t really matter what the genre is.”

Leslie said the some 50 dancers who have been preparing for the “Nutcracker Sweet” and the some 200 dancers who have been rehearsing for the hip-hop and classic versions of the shows have been counting down the days until they can share the performance with others.

Aimed at engaging young children, the “Nutcracker Sweet” performance runs for about half the time as the classic version of the ballet and captivates younger children with the ballet’s “greatest hits,” said Leslie. Attended by some 100 people, the performances offer children an up close view into the story at the company’s headquarters at 1880 S. Grant St. She added that the Sugar Plum Tea Parties the company hosts after the first and last showings not only give children a chance to meet the dancers in person but also support the company’s scholarships and autism-friendly performances, which allow those who attend to watch the Nutcracker in a “shush-free” setting.

“When they turn around and they say ‘is that all?’” she said. “You know it’s time to take them to the Fox [Theatre].”

Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker

Melia Kramer dances as Clara and Theo Vilmenay dances as Fritz in a previous production of the Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker.

Performed at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre, the hip-hop and classic versions of the ballet are expected to delight more than 7,000 people over the course of eight shows in late December, said Leslie. Choreographed and directed by Isaac “Stuck” Sanders and Alee Martinez, the company’s hip-hop version of the ballet features renowned dancers from a wide array of backgrounds and has been known to draw a crowd, said Leslie.

She said the success the Hip Hop Nutcracker has had in attracting those who haven’t experienced the ballet before has inspired the Peninsula Ballet Theatre to offer hip-hop versions of other performances throughout the year, such as Hip Hop Cinderella and the Hip Hop Halloween showcase.

“There’s still Clara, there’s still Fritz, there’s the Mouse King, but it’s all done in an urban, hip-hop genre … and it’s very, very exciting,” she said. “It’s just launched us into a whole new genre.”

Featuring a younger, less frightening portrayal of Herr Drosselmeyer as the character guiding the audience through the story, the company’s classic version of the Nutcracker provides viewers with a magical journey through the dreamland made of candy, said Leslie.

Having performed in and coordinated countless Nutcracker performances over decades, Leslie said the experience of seeing audience members transfixed by the classic story never gets old. Whether they are interested in seeing a show in the Fox Theatre or looking for a new take on a traditional ballet, Leslie encouraged those considering a Nutcracker experience this holiday season to give it a try.

“It’s just that universal truth that will take you out of your everyday world, visit a different place for just a little bit of time and you just come out feeling rejuvenated, refreshed [and] inspired,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have that little bit of respite, that little bit of inspiration.”

Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s performances of the Nutcracker Sweets begin Dec. 7 and the hip hop and classic performances will be offered at various times Dec. 20 through Dec. 28. Visit peninsulaballet.org/performances for more information on the performances and to buy tickets.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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