By Valerie Watson and Sydney Walburg
The Lesher Center for the Arts is a great place to catch a live performance in Walnut Creek, whether it’s light-hearted entertainment for children or an emotional theater production. For the holiday season, many local ballet studios put on their own rendition of the classic Christmas ballet The Nutcracker or their own holiday-related performance in the Lesher Center. The Contra Costa Ballet Centre performs The Nutcracker throughout November, and The Ballet School performs their own original show: Once Upon a Christmas, during December.
Two Las Lomas students, senior Grace Perry and sophomore Claire Young, are dancers at The Ballet School in Walnut Creek. This year, they are participating in the annual performance of Once Upon a Christmas at the Lesher Center. A lot of time and preparation is put into the show, with dancers putting in long rehearsal hours and working hard to be ready in time for the recital.
“Rehearsals are brutal at first, since there is a lot of coaching. It’s also important to be there so you don’t miss any important choreography changes. But after a while, it’s fun and running through the show makes you excited for the recital itself,” said Young, who plays the Cinderella Doll in Once Upon a Christmas.
Young has been dancing since the age of three, and it is still something she continues to find joy in doing. Like many athletes who find joy in their sport, Young turns to dance to relieve stress when she is under pressure.
Grace Perry, who has been dancing since age two, began her dance career because of her family’s history of dance. Perry’s great grandmother, Lareen Fender, founded The Ballet School over forty years ago, and her mother continues to own and run the dance school to this day.
Perry, who is performing as the Star-Spangled Doll in Once Upon a Christmas, said, “It feels more special since it’s an original show that has been performing for 45 years. I also love the legacy that comes with the show being so old. Many members of my family have danced in it along with a lot of my friends who are older than me and have gone off to college.”
Contra Costa Ballet Centre and Diablo Ballet both annually perform The Nutcracker at the Lesher Center as well. The New York City Ballet first performed George Balanchine’s Nutcracker in 1954, and it quickly became a popular Christmas show. The Nutcracker follows the story of a young girl, Clara, who is gifted a toy nutcracker for Christmas. She then goes on a magical adventure in her dream, with her nutcracker-turned-prince, and encounters many mystical creatures, including an army of mice she battles, as well as the welcoming Sugar Plum Fairy and her kingdom of candy.
Performing as the Toy Soldier and Trepak lead in Contra Costa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, Marcus Brathwaite said, “My favorite part is probably feeling the spotlights hit me when I look my best.” After putting in almost three months worth of work, Brathwaite feels confident and enjoys watching his fellow dancers glide on stage.
At around seven to eight years old, Contra Costa Ballet’s Nutcracker production was what inspired Brathwaite most to become a ballet dancer. For weeks on end, he would dance around his home until he officially began his ballet journey. Since then, he has been dancing with the Contra Costa Ballet Centre for eight years and is a part of the company. The productions held at the Lesher Center for the Arts bring winter magic and the holiday spirit to Walnut Creek. The Ballet school’s original tale Once Upon a Christmas is in the theater from December 2-3, and The Nutcracker put on by Contra Costa Ballet brought the early Christmas rush to the Lesher during November 25-27.