By Ray Wyman Jr.
DOWNEY – There are many holiday traditions. Only a few stand out for the way they draw together both family and community. Tree lighting ceremonies are one. Watching a community performance of Tchaikovsky’s timeless Nutcracker ballet is another.
Southern California Dance Theatre and Academy is preparing for their 23rd season performance of the Nutcracker. If past years are any example, this event will be a great treat for family and community.
Two performances are scheduled this year; December 16 and 17; at the Downey Theater in Downey. More than 100 cast members and volunteers have been preparing since September and now – at this point – busier than ever putting finishing touches on props, costumes, and performance.
“It’s the love of dance that drives us,” says Paula Vreulink, the director, and producer of the performance and a co-founder of the dance troupe. “Our mission has always been to inspire young dancers through a collaboration with professionals. The benefit to the community is a perfect blend of family and tradition. This production is a heartfelt celebration of dance.”
According to Vreulink, about half of the cast members are younger performers. The youngest is three years old. They will join on stage with paid professional and semi-professional dancers, aged 18 and older, for a traditional display of the classic ballet, with a slight twist.
“Our audience will see a humorous and family-friendly version of Nutcracker,” she says. “It is also highly inclusive with a diverse range of performers in terms of their age, ethnicity, and even skills. Being inclusive is the message of our company. I think our audience will identify with what we have prepared for them.
“Inclusion for us means giving an opportunity to every student performer who dreams of performing,” she says. “If they have a desire to do their best, then I think it’s our responsibility to train them and open a stage for them to perform.”
The Southern California Dance Academy is a nonprofit dance school based in Long Beach, CA. It’s fully supported by donors and volunteers. Vreulink herself donates all her time for choreography, rehearsal, and the production.
Southern California Dance Theatre “puts on the show,” says Vreulink, while the “Academy” trains and rehearses the students. A few of the student performers are from other dance schools like the Downey YMCA.
Among the featured professional dancers is Jestoni DagDag who will be performing the role of the “Cavalier.” A rising star in the local dancer community, “Jest” was noted for his work when he was a student at UC Irvine.
He regularly performs with Shaun Boyle & Artists for performances in New York, Texas, and Arizona. He also teaches contemporary dance workshops at the academy.
Jackie Schiffer will dance in the role of the Sugar Plumb. Schiffer has received training from the Orange County Dance Center and the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York City. She is currently a student at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Her talents have been featured in Pointe Magazine.
Zeraphine Butcher is a talented 10-year-old who will play the role of “Clara.” She is the youngest dancer from the Academy to play in this demanding role. She has performed in several other of the Academy’s productions and now dances competitively in the Youth America Grand Prix.
“I’m inspired every time I see our students work,” says Vreulink. “Our gift to the community is to see the magic of their hard work come together as part of a great tradition that spans generations.”
For more information regarding the Southern California Dance Theater and Academy, see their website at scdt.com
For more information regarding the upcoming performances at the Downey Theater, go to www.downeytheatre.org or call (562)861-8211.