Published November 18, 2008
Volume 16, Number 11

Valley Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker Takes to the Stage Starting December 13        

Is there any better testimony to the Tri-Valley’s support of the arts than a list of all the groups that perform here?  “From what I’ve heard, we are the only community in California with a symphony, opera, fine arts group, chorale, theater company, and ballet,” muses Betsy Hausburg, co-founder and artistic director of the Valley Dance Theatre (VDT), the non-profit ballet company based in Livermore.

As it has for the past 27 years, VDT is staging a dazzling production of the holiday classic, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, over the two weekends before Christmas. For only the second season, the performances will be taking place at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater, whose large stage accommodates stunning visual effects like snowfall and elaborate sets.

“Parents have asked me if they can bring kids as young as three, and my response is ‘Absolutely!’” Hausburg remarks. The production, although lightly edited to emphasize the action, will be presented in its original glory, thanks to the accompaniment of the Livermore-Amador Symphony Pit Orchestra and alternating performances by the Valley Concert Chorale and the Harmony Fusion Chorus. It is unusual for a production mounted today to have all these elements, but they greatly enhance the experience, Hausburg points out, referencing the elegant rendition of the Land of Snow scene at the end of Act I. “The choir, the symphony, and all the dancers—this is the epitome of The Nutcracker!” she enthuses.

Many other characteristics distinguish VDT performances. One is the guiding principle that everyone dances. “We find appropriate roles for everyone. There are so few dancers who really make it in the professional world. That’s why the company was founded, to give people who really want to dance that opportunity. ” The chance for the audience to meet and speak with the dancers in the lobby after the show is another fixture. “It’s a real treat for the kids to ask questions, get autographs, and see the costumes up close,” she comments.

Costumes are also an area in which the company excels. Every costume is custom made by a private crew of seamstresses and designers. It takes exceptional skill working with the hard-to-handle netting to produce the tutus, Hausberg confides, noting that the woman who makes them for VDT has taken courses expressly for that purpose. Add in the hoops and beading, and the costumes “rival those of the San Francisco ballet,” she says. 

Asked about the best way to view a ballet, the director cites her penchant to select “the cheaper seats, up high, so you can see the whole thing.” But that’s not a universal preference. Balletomanes like to watch the dancers’ feet, while most people concentrate on the upper body and arms. “My mother loved to see men dance, especially the leaps, but if they made a noise when they came down she thought it destroyed the ethereal effect,” Hausberg relates. “Ballet is supposed to be like flying, but there are so many dimensions viewers can focus on whatever they choose.”

Nutcracker performances run from Saturday, December 13 through Sunday, December 21. For times and ticket information, go to www.bankheadtheater.org or call (925) 373-6800. For more information about VDT, visit www.valleydancetheatre.com or call (925) 243-0925.


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