Newport Beach Student Dances Lead Role of Clara in ABT’s ‘The Nutcracker’ at Segerstrom Center

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The Waltz of the Flowers from Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker. Photo: Marty Sohl.

December is a month for holiday traditions, especially in the performing arts. One of those traditions is the beloved American Ballet Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which returns for the seventh time to Segerstrom Center for the Arts for 12 performances December 8 through 17.

Co-presented by the Center and ABT with choreography by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, “The Nutcracker” is the timeless tale of a young girl, Clara, who receives the gift of a nutcracker doll at her family’s Christmas party. In her dreams that night, the nutcracker doll comes to life as a handsome prince who joins her on a magical journey. Together, they travel to lands filled with dancing snowflakes, waltzing flowers, a mouse army and other exotic characters.

In addition to the incredible ABT dancers, 40 students from the ABT William J. Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center are featured annually in ABT’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

Newport Beach ballerina Jordan Espero

This year, Newport Beach resident Jordan Espero, a longtime student at the ABT William J. Gillespie School, is dancing the coveted role of Clara in half of the performances.

Espero, who turned 13 on November 30, had been dancing since she was three years old. She has been attending the ABT school since 2018.

During a Zoom interview with her father Robert sitting in, Espero said she is excited and a little nervous to be dancing the role of Clara.

“This is my first year doing ‘Nutcracker,’” said Espero. “They had one big audition and then called us back the next day. That was exciting.”

Espero has been rehearsing her role every Saturday at the ABT school, but this week will be daily on-stage rehearsals with ABT dancers. There are also costume fittings.

Her father will serve as chauffeur and Uber driver, as he does for her daily classes at the ABT school.

“I get no tips and no pay,” he joked.

Ballerina Jordan Espero rehearses with dancer Atticus Cunningham. Photo by Elaina Francis Photography.

Espero named several ballet dancers she admires, including Misty Copeland, a dancer with ABT and the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s history.

Espero noted she has a few years to go before she graduates from the ABT school and makes a decision to continue her dancing career, but she has other aspirations. According to her bio, “When I’m older I would love to be a pilot in the US Navy or a ballerina!”

Why a pilot?

“I think it’s really cool—I love watching the jets, and my grandpa was in the Navy, and I love aircraft carriers and the history, but I also love ballet, so I don’t know yet,” she said.

Ballerina Jordan Espero rehearses with Liam Boobar. Photo by Elaina Francis Photography.

In the meantime, she’ll continue her lessons at the ABT school, where she says she has many friends, and the teachers are all supportive of the students.

And as far as looking ahead to next year’s “Nutcracker,” Espero noted that she is almost too tall to play Clara, so “next year I might not be able to do it. This year will certainly be special.”

Jordan Espero dances the role of Clara on December 9 matinee and evening, December 10 evening, December 13 evening, and December 16 and 17 matinees.

For tickets to “The Nutcracker,” visit www.SCFTA.org.

The Snow from Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker. Photo: Marty Sohl.
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