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November 21, 2007 > Ballet Petit - The beauty of tradition

Ballet Petit - The beauty of tradition

By Vidya Pradhan

When winter strips the trees and turns the days into cold gray ghosts, we bring splashes of color into our homes with gay wreaths, sparkling tree decorations and pots and pots of poinsettia. But no holiday tradition is more colorful than the spectacular choreography and dazzling costumes of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet.

For the audience, it marks the beginning of the festive season. For the dancers of the Ballet Petit Dance Company, it is their place in history, their mark in a continuum of performances that stretches back to a humble beginning 29 years ago.

Peggy Peabody is the Artistic Director of Ballet Petit. Her love for ballet as a little girl translated into teaching a few kids at her mom's preschool as she herself auditioned for parts in the local company's Nutcracker production. "I started out in the party scene and moved up through the years to play different parts," she reminisces. Peggy found that she wanted to share the sense of continuity and tradition she felt dancing year after year in the ballet.

Ballet Petit's first production of the Nutcracker ballet was a small one, with just 17 dancers. In the audience were proud mamas, papas, grandparents, uncles and cousins. Today, the full scale production boasts 275 dancers, switching between 450 costumes. The audience, while still including proud parents and friends, is also made up of people from around the world, connoisseurs who travel from city to city comparing different productions. Peggy and the company have received fan letters praising their production and comparing them to the best in the world.

Ballet Petit trains kids as young as 3 years old. The tiny tots begin in a 'Twinkle Toes' program concentrating on rhythm and music. Older kids take five classes a week with an option of coming in for more hours. There are recreational dancers and serious dancers; the latter can take 10 to 15 classes a week, especially during rehearsal time. While this may seem to be a deterrent from schoolwork, Peggy says, "There is no doubt that intense experience in the arts leads to more focus in school."

No matter whether the dancers are serious or recreational, everyone takes part in the annual production of the Nutcracker. The little ones are brought on and off the stage by the big girls and become part of the tradition right from the start. As they watch much of the performance from the wings, they try to copy steps so they can move up and dance more complex parts in the next year's performance. The company is also proud to have 14 boys in the production.

"Every dancer knows and remembers all the parts she has played before. Sometimes I even catch girls trying out for more advanced parts and rehearsing for them on the side. There is the sense that they are all part of a long and fulfilling tradition in dancing the Nutcracker," says Peggy. Lillian Kautz, the Sugar Plum Fairy this year, is 15 and has been dancing in the production in various parts since she was 8. "We are not just doing the Nutcracker. The girls are living these parts. As soon as the last show of the last year ended, the girls started planning who was to have which part this year. Even though rehearsals begin officially in August, the girls are prepped and ready to go long before that." In the summer, older girls who have graduated and moved on, come back to dance and mentor the younger ones. Many teachers in the staff of 10 are former students. Parents are also deeply involved in the production. "I couldn't do it without them," says Peggy. "It is like a church, a family, a school."

This year's Nutcracker Ballet is the company's 29th production. It has the distinction of being the longest continuously running Nutcracker production in the East Bay. In addition, Ballet Petit has held a unique position within the Oakland Ballet's Nutcracker. They are invited annually to perform as the Gingersnaps and several Ballet Petit dancers have been selected within the regular cast. "We greatly appreciate these opportunities," says Peggy. This year, again, Ballet Petit will be performing as Gingersnaps at Oakland Ballet's Opening Night on December 20.

Ballet Petit presents 'Nutcracker'
Saturday, December 1.........2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, December 2........... 7 p.m.
Chabot College Theater of Performing Arts
25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward
(510) 324-4988

Adults: $18; Children (3 to 12): $14; Seniors: $14
Group Discounts Available

Call (510) 324-4988 for more information. Tickets are available at Ballet Petit, 30060 Mission Blvd, (Second Floor), Hayward, on the following date:
Wednesday, November 28 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Tickets will also be available at the theater 30 minutes prior to each performance.

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