The holidays are here, and no winter season is complete without a festive local production of the classic Nutcracker ballet.
Here in Marin, where the arts are as valued as they are varied, Marin Ballet is ready to stun its audience (as it has for the past 60 years) with its annual performance of The Nutcracker.
This rendition of Nutcracker features 145 children, aged from second grade to seniors in high school, all taught by the esteemed and knowledgeable staff at Marin Ballet. Choreographer and retired professional ballet dancer Julia Adam continues to produce dances for talented local children and is excited to hit the stage once again with her version of Nutcracker.
“I’m a Canadian, and my mother was a ballerina as well,” said Adam. “I went to a ballet boarding school in Toronto and ended up defecting to America and joined the San Francisco ballet under the tutelage of Helgi Tomasson. I climbed the ladder and became a principal dancer, the highest rank, and I started making dances and felt very lucky.”
Adam went on to begin making works (i.e. choreography) for her school and was soon given the opportunity to do three works for the San Francisco Ballet, which launched her choreographic career. Only when she became pregnant, however, did she decide to retire from the main stage and wholeheartedly pursue choreography, leaving San Francisco behind in the process.
“When I saw a cute little apartment in San Anselmo, I fell in love with Marin,” said Adam. “Now I have some of the most interesting artist friends that live out here, and my husband and I raised our children here—it’s been an amazing community for me.”
Adam brings her extensive knowledge, experience and history in the ballet industry to the children of Marin County. She has been sharing her skills and talent for almost two decades.
“I have a long history with Marin Ballet and a wonderful team, and it’s a connection that grew organically over time,” said Adam. “I’m positioned in teaching the kids who are a little bit older, like for the part of Clara.
“A fun part of the production is when everything is taught and I come into the studio and watch them, give little ideas, sprinkle a little fairy dust on them—they’re so focused on the technicalities, and I like to remind them that you can’t forget that people have come to watch you tell a story. It’s a lot of moving pieces, and I couldn’t do it without the team. They’re working hard, and it’s so wonderful watching the kids work with their coaches and mentors.”
Adam’s production of Nutcracker is unique, as it takes into consideration the classic tale and form, but adds her own twist that incorporates a lot of humor and unexpected storytelling. She describes her production as being, “a little tongue in cheek and told brilliantly by remarkable children.”
In addition, the sets, costumes and lighting for Marin Ballet’s Nutcracker are all created by a brilliant professional team that makes for a very beautiful and grand visual experience. On top of a stunning and festive performance, attendees can expect lavish Victorian costumes and sets and an airborne surprise at the final curtain. Marin Ballet is presenting live piano entertainment during intermission, as well as a holiday boutique for Christmas shopping.
“I think things are changing in the ballet industry, and the ‘break them down to build them up’ method of teaching in ballet is becoming less popular,” explained Adam. “It’s still an intense discipline and takes a commitment. People are always surprised because Marin Ballet is a school and the dancers are children, but the telling of the Nutcracker story with children is more appropriate. There’s something about it that’s so charming when told with children performing. It’s a visual treat and quite special.”
The only adult performer, a professional ballet dancer whom Adam hires for the annual Nutcracker performance, plays the part of the Drosselmeyer. Apart from him, the remaining cast of this huge performance is composed entirely of local children who have often been a part of Marin Ballet throughout their childhoods. Adams asserts that they are excited to begin performing under normal circumstances, since COVID restrictions greatly impacted the dancers’ ability to perform their annual rendition of Nutcracker.
“The first year of COVID, we obviously couldn’t go into the theater,” explained Adam. “So, I choreographed this sort of strange Nutcracker performance, where it was all done on Zoom. We built a little stage in the parking lot of the Marin Ballet, and the dancers performed outside, still masked. It was all live, and it was wonderful and terrible at the same time. Last year, we were in the theater, but everyone was masked, which was intense in its own way. This year, it’s looking like we’re going to be able to do it like we always used to. It was hard, especially for these kids who come to Marin Ballet to move and bond with their peers.”
Marin Ballet was founded in 1963 as the Marin Civic Ballet Association by dance educator Leona Norman and a group of volunteers led by Max and Phyllis Thelen. Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance, the organization is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2023. Currently, Marin Ballet provides free dance instruction to local public school students, reaching more than 450 students in the 2021-22 academic year.
“I’ve danced every part you can imagine in the Nutcracker, from the Gingerbread Cookie to the Sugar Plum Fairy,” concluded Adam. “By the time I retired, I was exhausted from doing The Nutcracker. But then I was asked to do my own version for Marin Ballet, and it holds a very special place in my heart. Ballet is like magic; it’s telling a story with the body. I love that I get to meet all these kids and watch them grow through the production. It’s almost heartbreaking to see them start as sweet little fairies, and then they’re Clara, asking for a college letter of recommendation.”
The Marin Ballet ‘Nutcracker’ is located at Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. Performances will be held at 1 and 5pm Dec. 10, and 1pm Dec. 11. Tickets are $28 to $47 and are available at tickets.marincenter.org. For more information, visit www.marinballet.org/performances.