December is the month of dance in Orange County—specifically, “The Nutcracker.” Nearly every dance studio presents its version of “The Nutcracker,” the beloved holiday story based on “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E.T.A. Hoffmann and set to a memorable score by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which forged a partnership with American Ballet Theatre that brings ABT premieres to our county, is again hosting American Ballet Theatre’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” co-presented by the Center and ABT with choreography by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, scenery and costumes by Tony Award-winner Richard Hudson (Disney’s The Lion King), and lighting by Tony Award-winner Jennifer Tipton. The score will be performed live by Pacific Symphony.
In its annual holiday engagement, American Ballet Theatre will give 12 performances between December 9 and 18, in Segerstrom Hall. This year marks the seventh time that The Center has presented ABT’s “The Nutcracker,” featuring ABT’s international all-star cast.
One of those dancers is James Whiteside, a Principal Dancer who was seriously injured last year at Segerstrom while onstage performing in “The Nutcracker.” The curtain was brought down and they stopped the performance, when a tendon that attached the muscles in his knee to his patella ruptured during a jump.
The injury risked ending his career as a dancer, but Whiteside opted for knee surgery. His doctor predicted eight months to a year of recovery before Whiteside could begin to train again, but the dancer was determined to accelerate that diagnosis and made a quicker recovery than expected. He danced in “Whipped Cream” this fall in New York and is joining the company here to dance on the same stage, in the same role, where he injured his leg, just a year later.
While this “Nutcracker” marks a comeback for Whiteside, it’s also the final performances with Kevin McKenzie as ABT’s Artistic Director, who is retiring after three decades at the helm.
McKenzie was a leading dancer with both The Joffrey Ballet and the National Ballet of Washington before joining American Ballet Theatre as a Soloist in March 1979. He was appointed a Principal Dancer the following December and danced with the company until 1991. McKenzie, 68, was appointed ABT’s Artistic Director in October 1992.
Accolades for ABTs “The Nutcracker” include “A visual tour de force—a ‘Nutcracker’ without parallel” (OC Register) and “A production like no other, made with complete theatrical authority from first to last” (New York Times).
This year, 40 students from the ABT William J. Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center are featured in this production of “The Nutcracker.”
Single tickets for American Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” start at $29 and are available online at www.SCFTA.org, at the Box office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, or by calling (714) 556-2787.
Casting for “The Nutcracker”
ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie has released principal casting for the roles of Clara the Princess and the Nutcracker Prince.
Friday, December 9 at 7 p.m. – Devon Teuscher, Joo Won Ahn
Saturday, December 10 at 2 p.m. – Isabella Boylston, James Whiteside
Saturday, December 10 at 7 p.m. – Catherine Hurlin, Aran Bell
Sunday, December 11 at 12:30 p.m. – Cassandra Trenary, Calvin Royal III
Sunday, December 11 at 5:30 p.m. – Christine Shevchenko, Thomas Forster
Wednesday, December 14 at 7 p.m. – Hee Seo, Cory Stearns
Thursday, December 15 at 7 p.m. – Skyler Brandt, Herman Cornejo
Friday, December 16 at 7 p.m. – Cassandra Trenary, Calvin Royal lll
Saturday, December 17 at 2 p.m. – Devon Teuscher, Joo Won Ahn
Saturday, December 17 at 7 p.m. – Skylar Brandt, Herman Cornejo
Sunday, December 18 at 12:30 p.m. – Catherine Hurlin, Aran Bell
Sunday, December 18 at 5:30 p.m. – Hee Seo, Cory Stearns
ABT and Segerstrom Center
Since 2015, ABT has thrilled audiences at Segerstrom Center for the Arts with annual holiday engagements of “The Nutcracker” for over 75 performances.
Segerstrom Center and ABT have a long-standing relationship. At the Center, ABT gave the World Premiere of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s “Swan Lake” in 1988. In 1999, the ABT production of “Le Corsaire” was taped for broadcast on PBS’s Dance in America, winning an Emmy Award. In 2003, “The Dream” was also taped at the Center for broadcast on Dance in America. In 2008, ABT co-commissioned Twyla Tharp’s “Rabbit and Rogue” with Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which received its World Premiere in New York and its West Coast Premiere at the Center.
Other ABT productions at the Center have included the West Coast Premiere of Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty” in 2007, the World Premiere of a new production of “Firebird” by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky in 2012, and three additional ballets by Ratmansky.
In April of 2021, the Center presented “Uniting in Movement,” a unique dance project that brought 18 ABT dancers together during the pandemic for safe collaboration and exhilarating performance of new works by Jessica Lang, Lauren Lovette, and Darrell Grand Moultrie.
Last March, ABT and the Center presented a mixed repertory program that included the World Premiere “Single Eye” by Alonzo King to the music of Jason Moran and West Coast Premieres of Ratmansky’s “Bernstein in a Bubble” and Jessica Lang’s “ZigZag,” featuring songs recorded by Tony Bennett.
Next spring, American Ballet Theatre will give the North American Premiere of “Like Water for Chocolate” at the Center. ABT and the Center’s partnership in 2024 will include a third World Premiere (details to follow at a later date).