Few young girls have been given as magical a Christmas gift as Clara, the heroine of Tchaikovsky's ballet, "Nutcracker." Clara receives a nutcracker in the shape of a toy soldier and dreams he comes to life, leading her on a series of dazzling, worldwide adventures.
Unrivaled in its appeal to youthful fantasy and innocence, "Nutcracker" has long been a standard of the holiday season. This year, it will be performed by the San Fernando Valley Youth Ballet, with music by the Los Angeles Solo Repertory Orchestra, on Saturday and Sunday at Reseda High School.
"My idea is to keep it as traditional as possible," Dan Durrie, director of the youth ballet, said of the production. "The community can see 'Nutcracker' as it was supposed to be done."
He said about 50 dancers, ages 8 to 20, will take part. Durrie described the youth ballet as "a training program for student dancers who want to be professional ballerinas. We do classes and performances throughout the year so they can get an idea of what it's like to be in a ballet company."
Tricia Rigney, 17, landed the coveted lead role of Clara. She plans to pursue a dance career by moving to New York City after graduating in June from John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley.
"I've only been dancing 3 1/2 years," Rigney said. "I started very late and that's why, because of my age, I can't sit around any longer. I've got to go to New York right away."
Rigney would be pleased with a career as a professional ballerina, but 10-year-old Danielle Grace, a member of the "Nutcracker" chorus, aims even higher.
"I want to do all three--tap, ballet and jazz," she said with assurance. "I hope to be on Broadway one day."
Miriam Durrie, 17, sister of the company director, is dancing in "Nutcracker" for the fourth time, but said the ballet's magic has not worn off.
"What's wonderful is the fact that Clara has this chance to live the perfect dream for any young girl."
Director Durrie, 23, said he has abridged "Nutcracker" somewhat because the post-intermission portion of the program is devoted to a performance by the Los Angeles Solo Repertory Orchestra of several holiday works.
These include "The Night Before Christmas," with narration by retired KFAC announcer Thomas Cassidy; sleigh ride compositions by Leroy Anderson and Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Mozart, and Arcangelo Corelli's "Christmas" concerto. The show concludes with audience sing-alongs of Christmas carols and the "Hallelujah" chorus of George Frederick Handel's "Messiah."
"We'll have an orchestra of about 70," said Robert Rouse, organization president. "We do a Christmas show every year, and it's one of the highlights of our season."
The group takes its name from its practice of offering solo opportunities to musicians who are at the brink of a professional career or who are dedicated amateurs. Soloists in the Corelli piece will be violinists Natalie Leggett and Isabella Lippi and cellist Gianna Abondolo, all Valley residents. James A. Swift is conductor and musical director.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Reseda High School Auditorium, 18230 Kittridge St. Tickets at the door are $8.50 for adults, $5 for seniors, students and children. Advance sale tickets are $6 and $4. Telephone is 818-342-8400.