Casting for Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

Ramona Kelly and Seyong Kim cast as lead roles in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. Sports legends join the cast for special cameo appearances.

Each year, Oakland Ballet Company holds auditions to hire company dancers – all highly trained performers possessing exceptional strength and versatility. Throughout the season, different company members are selected for the lead roles in Oakland Ballet Company productions. This December, Ramona Kelley and Seyong Kim, both who have been a part of the company for several seasons, will grace the stage as Marie and the Nutcracker in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker.

Ramona Kelley Brings Irresistible Charm to the Character of Marie

This past summer, Ramona was recognized by dance writer Carla Escoda in Dance Europe magazine in the category of “outstanding performance by a female dancer.” Ramona danced the lead roles in last spring’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Consort, and will dance the lead role of Marie in this year’s Nutcracker – her fourth year in this role. Ramona’s talent and elegance, combined with her irresistible stage presence, are perfectly suited for the character of Marie. Originally from Berkeley, Ramona holds a BFA in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has an wide array of dance experience outside of Oakland Ballet – most recently as a member of Twyla Tharp Dance. This is her fourth season with Oakland Ballet Company.

 

Seyong Kim Reprises His Role as the Nutcracker

With an MA in Dance Education from New York University and an MFA in Dance from Sung-Kyun-Kwan University in South Korea, Seyong Kim draws on years of experience for his performance as this year’s Nutcracker – his second year in this role. A well rounded performer, teacher, and choreographer, Seyong boasts an impressive ability to execute a highly technical performance with relaxed and effortless beauty. East Bay audiences will delight in watching this world class dancer take the stage again this December.

 

East Bay Sports Legends Appear in Special Cameo Performances

This December, OBC welcomes two exciting cameo guest performers – both from Oakland’s own baseball team, The Oakland Athletics!

Oakland A’s President, David Kaval and former A’s second baseman, scout, and current baseball analyst, Shooty Babbit, will both make special guest appearances in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 23 at  the 1pm performance.

Dave works tirelessly to ensure the baseball team’s success as a sports franchise and community partner. It will be a treat to watch him assume a very different role in the ballet’s first act.

Shooty has had a long career in the baseball industry – first as a second baseman for the Oakland A’s during the 1981 MLB season, then as a scout, and currently as an analyst for pre- and post-game shows for Oakland A’s home games on NBC Sports California.

 

Be on the lookout for Dave and Shooty in the performance as guests at the lavish party in the opening scene.

Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” will be performed at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday, December 23 at 1:00 and 5:00 pm and Sunday, December 24 at 1:00. Tickets are on sale now. Click here to reserve your seat.

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Go Behind the Scenes of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

Every December, Oakland Ballet Company dancers delight the East Bay community with performance of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. When each performer dons a costume, wields a prop, or is transported to the magical Land of the Sweets via a giant hot air balloon, they are relying upon a very special group of individuals working diligently from the wings of the stage. Learn more about the important people behind the scenes who make each show possible.

Bat Abbit – Ballet Master

Bat Abbit has served as Oakland Ballet Company’s Ballet Master since 2010 – logging countless hours in and outside of the studio to ensure that performances are stage ready. Rehearsals begin about five weeks before the performances and, in the lead-up to Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker, Bat is in the studio up to 50 hours each week setting the choreography on our professional dancers and student cast members. With his extensive knowledge of Artistic Director Graham Lustig’s choreography (Bat originated the role of Fritz in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker!) he guides the dancers not only through the technical steps performed onstage, but also through the artistic qualities that make this production extra special. When not rehearsing, Bat also serves as Oakland Ballet’e Education Coordinator – planning and implementing “Discover Dance” educational programs and The Academy at Oakland Ballet.

 


Christopher Dunn – Costume Manager

Since 2014, Oakland Ballet Company has enjoyed the gorgeous contributions of Wardrobe Manager and Costume Designer Christopher Dunn. Each December Christopher is tasked with managing more than 150 costumes for our performances of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker! He spends weeks fitting the colorful costumes (originally designed by Emmy and Tony award winning designer, Zach Brown) on both the professional and student dancers, updating any costumes that need a little extra sparkle, and organizing the costumes for educational and promotional events throughout the month of December. He makes sure that dressing rooms are assigned and that costumes are ready for the dancers when they arrive at the Paramount Theater for rehearsals and performances. Finally, after every performance he makes sure that costumes are mended, laundered, and ready for the next performance.

As resident Costume Designer, Christopher has created many original costumes for OBC – all combining stunning aesthetics with functionality. Growing up as a dancer in a studio owned by his mother, and currently still working as a professional dancer at Dance Theatre of San Francisco, Christopher has a first-hand understanding of how to craft a costume that is both visually appealing and makes the dancer feel comfortable and confident.

Fun fact – Christopher will also be joining the production as a Father in the Party Scene this year. Look for him on-stage this December 23 and 24!

 


Christine Dunaway – Production and Stage Manager

Coordinating the execution of countless technical tasks that enable a production like Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker is a massive undertaking. Fortunately, Oakland Ballet Company can rely upon the experience and professionalism of Production and Stage Manager Chris Dunaway (Dunaway Events). Chris brings her 17 years of experience to the Paramount Theatre every December to coordinate and schedule the backstage technical crew, manage the transportation and installation of scenery and lighting equipment to the theater, and finally, to ensure that every scenery and lighting change goes off without a hitch during performances!

 


Amy Ferrara – Props Manager

While the costumes and sets are an integral part of every performance, few ballets rely so heavily on props as The Nutcracker. Amy Ferrara has served as Oakland Ballet Company’s Props Manager since 2010, ensuring that every present, sword, and bon bon appearing onstage is in working order and performance ready. Dancers can trust in Amy to help them execute sometimes challenging transitions involving props backstage.

 

 

 

 

 


Michael Morgan – Oakland Symphony Music Director and Conductor

Oakland Ballet Company is truly privileged to dance to live orchestral accompaniment by the Oakland Symphony. Michael Morgan, the Music Director and Conductor for the beloved East Bay organization, brings to each performance his impeccable timing and decades of experience. Michael and his orchestra members make Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” a truly magical event with their gorgeous interpretation of the Tchaikovsky score.

 


Don’t miss this magical holiday event! This year’s performances of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” will be held Saturday, December 23 at 1:00 and 5:00 pm and Sunday, December 24 at 1:00. Tickets are on sale now on-line or in person at the Paramount Theatre Box Office (Wednesdays from 11-3; Thursdays from 11-3; Fridays from 11-5:30; Saturdays from 11-3).

Photos:
Megan Terry as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. Photo by Dan Dion.
Damon Mahoney as Drosselmeyer. Photo by Dan Dion.

The Unique History of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

The Nutcracker is a beloved holiday tradition for ballet lovers around the world. Every December, Bay Area residents flock to the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland to delight in the Oakland Ballet Company’s version of the classic tale. Internationally renowned choreographer Graham Lustig contributed his original work to the company’s repertory when he took the helm as Artistic Director in 2010.

Lustig’s version of The Nutcracker is based on the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. In which a young girl named Marie receives a nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. Overnight, her Nutcracker prince comes to life and battles overgrown mice. When The Nutcracker was first staged as a ballet, a second act was incorporated, set in a magical land of sweets. This fantasy is also included in Lustig’s version and is filled with colorful sets and costumes designed by Emmy and Tony award winning designer, Zach Brown.

Ramona Kelley as Marie. Photo by Dan Dion.

Lustig’s version was first performed at the American Repertory Ballet Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, where he served as Artistic Director from 1999-2010 and features unique variations on the traditional vignettes of the second act. In a nod to Chinese culture, an ornamental bird takes flight. Polichinelles dance in and out of the legs of a clown on stilts, as opposed to the more ubiquitous Mother Ginger character. Lustig wanted to retain the authenticity of the original story while creating innovative new characters.

Damon Mahoney and student cast members in the Polichinelle dance. Photo by Dan Dion.

Your Chance to See This Unique Production

Oakland Ballet Company will be presenting Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker, with live accompaniment by the Oakland Symphony and Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir on Saturday, December 23 at 1:00 and 5:00 pm and Sunday, December 24 at 1:00 pm. On Friday, December 22, OBC invites more than 2,000 East Bay students to observe the dress rehearsal. (Learn more about our Discover Dance program and request tickets for your school.)

Tickets to this highly anticipated holiday event sell quickly, so be sure to purchase yours soon. Those who reserve their seats over the Thanksgiving holiday – November 23-30 – will receive 15% off the total ticket price.

Click here to purchase your tickets to Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker.

Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Paramount Theatre box office to save Ticketmaster fees.

Paramount Theatre Box Office Hours (beginning November 29):

Wednesdays: 11am-3pm
Thursdays: 11am-3pm
Fridays: 11am-5:30pm
Saturdays: 11am-3pm

Act I finale of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. Photo by John Hefti.

“Luna Mexicana” Honors Tradition with Innovative Performances

On November 3, Oakland Ballet Company held its finale performance of Luna Mexicana to a sold out audience at the Paramount Theatre – many adorned in Dia de los Muertos attire. The festive evening celebrated the iconic Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, and included performances from several renowned, East Bay-based Latin dance and music groups.

Luna Mexicana – an original work by Oakland Ballet Company’s Artistic Director Graham Lustig – tells of young woman who dreams that the spirits of her relatives and friends return and perform vivid dances in colorful costumes. The story unfolds against a soundtrack comprised of traditional folk favorites and electronic compositions by Mexico City’s Mexican Institute of Sound.

In addition to performances by Oakland Ballet Company, the festivities included offerings from Nahui-Ehekatl, Ballet Folklórico México Danza, and Mariachi Mexicanisimo. Traditional ofrendas were provided by the Oakland Museum of California. Guests were invited to enjoy tamales, pan de muerto, and Mexican hot chocolate provided by Pena’s Bakery and Tamales La Oaxaquena.

Nearly 3,000 attended the sold out performance at the Paramount Theatre on November 3 and in the weeks leading up to the finale show, OBC dancers, along with Ballet Folklórico México Danza, treated the East Bay communities of Union City, San Leandro, Dublin and Pleasanton to performances. Shorter, educational versions of the program were offered in eight East Bay school districts – providing dance arts education for nearly 10,500 students! All in all, the ballet was performed 21 times for 14,000 delighted Bay Area residents and students.

We would love to hear your experience of Luna Mexicana! Please share your photos and comments on our Facebook page and be entered into a contest to win two tickets to Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker.

Tickets for Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker are now! December 23 and 24, 2017 at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre with the Oakland Symphony and Piedmont East Bay Children’s Chorus.

Photos of Luna Mexicana 2017. Photography by Stephen Texeira.

Emily Kerr and Richard Link as the Bride and Groom
Maxwell Simoes, Emily Kerr, Sharon Kung, Leilani Neal, and Coral Martin as Skeletons
Ramona Kelley as Luna
Coral Martin and Matthew Ebert

OBC’s Discover Dance Program Creates a New Generation of Ballet Lovers

There are few experiences more thrilling to a small child than attending their first ballet. The elegant dancers, dramatic costumes, and soaring music inspire children to imagine worlds outside of their own and fill them with new hopes and dreams. Oakland Ballet Company (OBC) has long understood the positive impact that the arts can have on children and passionately pursues this goal through its Discover Dance educational program.

Every year, dancers from OBC visit schools throughout the East Bay to perform excerpts from upcoming ballets. A team of four dancers perform excerpts from upcoming performances, offer a short lesson on the history of ballet, and tell the students about what daily life is like as a professional dancer – such as their training regimen, diet, and how they maintain a healthy lifestyle. The dancers then engage the assembly of children in a live demonstration where volunteers from the audience collectively choreograph a dance on the spot.

 

The Discover Dance program started in 2010 and was the idea of Artistic Director Graham Lustig. When it began, the program revolved exclusively around The Nutcracker and brought the art of dance to approximately 5,000 children in Oakland Unified School District. Today, Discover Dance programming is currently offered in relation to the company’s Luna Mexicana, Nutcracker, and spring repertory seasons, and more than 15,000 students throughout eight East Bay school districts are exposed to the art of dance through in school assemblies and in theater student matinees each year.

 

 

Principals and teachers are delighted with the program, recognizing that the performances are often their students’ first exposure to ballet (or dance of any kind). OBC will continue to share this inspiring program with area schools in the years to come. In fact, the dancers are currently preparing to deliver Luna Mexicana and Nutcracker Discover Dance programs throughout the East Bay beginning October 18 through December 22!

To expose your little one to the magical world of ballet, purchase your tickets to on of OBC’s upcoming performances Luna Mexicana and Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. If you’d like to learn more about the Discover Dance program, call 510-893-3132 or visit OBC’s website.

 

Ballet and Baseball: A Match Made in Oakland

Two of the East Bay’s most beloved institutions are teaming up this Fall to bring you two opportunities to appreciate the community’s diverse offerings. Both Oakland Ballet Company and the Oakland A’s each recently celebrated their 50th year of contribution to the community of Oakland and will be collaborating to showcase both organizations in September.

Earlier this year, the professional dancers from Oakland Ballet Company donned baseball gear and pointe shoes to shoot footage for a commercial supporting the sports team. Last week, fans and spectators had two opportunities to enjoy the unlikely pairing of ballet and baseball in the Oakland Coliseum.

OBC Dance Calvin Thomas with Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle and Josh Phegley.

On Saturday, September 23rd, fans, the Board of Directors, the staff and even a few of the dancers of Oakland Ballet Company cheered on their home baseball team, the Oakland A’s as they faced off against the Texas Rangers. Everyone attending enjoyed field reserve seats along with a special A’s t-shirt and Star Wars themed fireworks show. Plus, a portion of the ticket price was a tax deductible donation – supporting OBC’s “Discover Dance” educational program. Tickets for this year’s Night Out at the A’s sold out quickly so make sure you check our website for next year’s date!

This season, the company reprises Graham Lustig’s “Luna Mexicana,” a celebration of the Day of the Dead beginning October 27 through November 3 at theaters throughout the East Bay. OBC joined the A’s to honor Hispanic Heritage Month – offering a sneak peek of the “Luna Mexicana” program before the first pitch on Sunday, September 24.

For information about Oakland Ballet Company’s upcoming performances of “Luna Mexicana” or to purchase tickets, visit our website or call 510-893-3132.

Ballet Boot Camp Student Reflections

One of the many joys of providing dance and ballet training for young dancers is hearing about the impact that our training programs make on these young artists. Artistic Director Graham Lustig received this lovely, hand-drawn card from a Ballet Boot Camp student following the conclusion of this year’s program on July 28.

 

Dear Mr. Graham,

Thank you so much for a wonderful three weeks. I really enjoyed getting to learn about the stories of Coppelia, Raymonda, and Cinderella. I am so grateful that you helped me tap into my creative mind by having us choreograph dances.

You taught me how to let myself be one with the dance. I really liked how we were also able to name the dances we came up with. Thank you so much for being supportive of my ideas and helping me understand how to put dance to music.

Sincerely,

Roxy House
Ballet Boot Camp 2017 student

Making A Dance – Ballet Boot Camp 2017

A few dozen young dancers ages 7-17 gathered for three weeks in July for OBC’s annual Ballet Boot Camp summer intensive program at Hayward’s Ballet Petit studios. At the end of each week the students presented an “informance” – an informal showcase of what they had learned over the previous week during hours of dance technique and choreography classes.

As an audience member for two of the three “informances” I discovered that the students learned quite a lot in one week’s time. The lengthy and detailed choreography the students learned and created over essentially four and a half days was truly impressive!

Graham Lustig, Oakland Ballet’s Artistic Director, opened the showcase by recounting his days as a young dance student in his childhood home of West London. He described how his training included not just the rigorous drills in technique but also the creative challenge to “make a dance”. The challenge was not just one of devising choreography but also designing sets and titles. In other words, it was coming up with the whole package. Graham now passes this challenge on to the next generation of aspiring professional dancers and choreographers as an important part of the summer intensive program.

Stepping up to the “make a dance” challenge students performed dances they had both created and learned from that week’s featured repertoire – Raymonda – composed by Alexander Glazunov and choreographed by Marius Petipa for the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1898. Raymonda is the story of a Crusader knight seeking shelter, a young countess named Raymonda, and a mystical White Lady who warns the girl of impending danger. The danger soon appears in the form of Abderakhman who tries by charm, stealth and force to make Raymonda his own only to be thwarted by the Crusader knight (a disguised King Andre II of Hungary) and her beloved Jean de Brienne. It’s pretty standard nineteenth century ballet fare and was probably created to keep the legions dancers in the Imperial Ballet busy as it required a cast of hundreds. Today, Raymonda’s greatest hits are usually combined into a much shorter piece.

The Senior Level dancers were up first – performing the Cherry Blossom adagio, which required them to demonstrate fluid lines and graceful extensions. When asked post performance what was most difficult about the piece they unanimously said, “staying on one foot and staying together!”

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Next up the entire group – both Junior and Senior level students – performed a Czardas. The Czardas is a traditional Hungarian folk dance perhaps once used to entice young men into military service and now used to entice young dancers onto the stage with it’s slow start and quick whirling finish.

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The seniors returned with each dancer performing her own interpretation of a Raymonda solo. Mr. Lustig reminded us that young dancers – particularly women – are primarily taught to copy and replicate. The ability to put their own spin on a classic work represents these young women’s early steps as creative artists. These solos were followed by the showing of a piece choreographed by Oakland Ballet Company dancer, Coral Martin.

The junior group then premiered their funky fusion, which was just what the title implies – a fusion of traditional ballet and modern funk. This was, judging by the giggling that accompanied it, the week’s favorite.

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The afternoon ended with a question and answer segment. Q: What was the best part of the week? A: “the whole week!!” “everything!” “technique class”. Q: What was the most difficult? A: “hard on the feet” “lots of bandages”. Q: Why ballet? A: “It’s hard but it’s worth the work and effort it takes because ballet makes you feel so graceful.” “You are expressing yourself”.

By Carolyn Rinetti
Vice President, Oakland Ballet Board of Directors

Baseballet

And stand and squat and leap and jump. And stand and squat and leap and jump.

Split squad spring training workout or morning ballet class? The Oakland Athletics and the Oakland Ballet say why not both?

There is a reason beyond shared geography that the Oakland Athletics chose to film a broadcast commercial with the dancers of the Oakland Ballet Company. Yes, both are, to use the A’s slogan “rooted in Oakland”, but the team and the company have much more in common than just their East Bay urban home. Baseball and ballet share so much:

  • First, second and third base – first, second and third position.
  • Corp de ballet – Pitching corp.
  • Both demand agility, precise timing, strength and stamina.
  • Both require endless drill and are best performed by the young.
  • Both provide spectators with almost super human displays of speed, flair and coordination.
  • Both dancers and players push themselves to do something very, very physically challenging every single day they perform and to do it better each time. To hold the arabesque longer. To make the throw from right field faster and more accurate.  And the very best of them make it look so deceptively easy.
  • The careers of ballplayers and dancers are fleetingly short and both players and dancers are just one accidentally awkward landing, turn or slide away from a career ending injury.
  • Baseball and ballet both provide spectators with moments of sublime grace and scenes of high drama that are singular in their intensity.

The Oakland Ballet Company and the Oakland Athletics in particular have a lot in common. They both draw smaller crowds than their San Francisco counterparts. The players and the dancers are astonishingly talented, but they are not big names drawing big salaries. Most importantly, the ballet company and the team and their respective fans have tremendous spirit and enormous heart.

So you balletomanes go out and cheer the shortstop’s extension in turning the double play. You baseball fans come see “The Nutcracker” and watch the Cavalier execute a grand jeté that would snag a ground rule double  Let’s play baseballet!

By Carolyn Rinetti
Vice President, Oakland Ballet Board of Directors

Announcing The Academy at Oakland Ballet

On September 6th, Oakland Ballet Company will launch its expanded dance training program, The Academy at Oakland Ballet.

2014-07-26 OBC Boot Camp 004The Academy at OBC has grown out of an increased interest for ballet classes at a pre-professional level in the East Bay. For the past 3 years, OBC’s ballet training program has been limited to 3 levels of ballet instruction for ages 6-14, all on Saturday mornings. This fall, the staff at OBC is thrilled to be adding 3 additional levels of training to the program as well as offering classes 2 days/week for the upper levels!

This program offers a wonderful opportunity for dancers of all types to learn and practice the art of ballet – whether you are completely new to ballet, enjoy dancing merely as a recreational activity, or you are an aspiring pre-professional dancer looking to  train with one of the Bay Area’s leading professional dance companies.

DSC00119“At The Academy at OBC, students focus on learning and honing the fundamentals of classical ballet while also increasing self-confidence and expression through dance. It is important to us to provide a fun and nurturing environment with a lot of individual attention for each student,” says OBC Director of Operations, Leah Curran. “Many of our students also audition and are chosen to participate in OBC’s annual production of Graham Lustig’s ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Paramount Theatre. It’s is a wonderful opportunity for young dancers to work closely with OBC’s artistic staff and professional dancers and learn about all of the work that goes into presenting a professional dance production. It’s an opportunity I wish I would have had as a young dancer!”

Students will study with Miss Vivian Aragon, who holds a BFA in Dance from Purchase College, State University of New York and is a seasoned ballet instructor and dancer in the Bay Area.

Classes at The Academy are offered two days per week for aspiring dancers ages 3 and up. For more information on classes at The Academy at Oakland Ballet, please visit http://www.oaklandballet.org/wp/theacademyatobc/2014-2015session or email theacademy@oaklandballet.org.