The curtain goes up on "The Nutcracker" season this weekend with Westside Ballet's version of the traditional holiday treat. But while visions of dancing sugarplums may seem wondrous to some, all has not been sweetness and light in the Land of the Dew Drop Fairy.
Over the past nine years, Westside Ballet has performed "Nutcracker" under the auspices of the Youth Theatre Guild, a nonprofit community service organization that supports the performing arts for young audiences.
But when the curtain dropped on little Clara last Christmas, the Westside Ballet found itself without a sponsor.
Bonnie Anderson, president of Youth Theatre Guild's board, told Westside Ballet's co-directors Yvonne Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire that Youth Theatre Guild would retain another company, the Palos Verdes Ballet.
In the previous arrangement between the two organizations, Westside Ballet's "Nutcracker" consisted of its dancers, costumes and choreography; Youth Theatre Guild owned sets, props, lighting, hired an orchestra, and handled advertising, publicity, tickets, parking and insurance.
Westside Ballet's Mounsey and Valaire decided to carry on without a sponsor.
On Sunday, the company's effort, luck and money--$36,000 to mount the ballet in Culver City and Reseda--makes its debut when a full-length "Nutcracker" is performed. Work to stage the production began last April.
"I didn't need five minutes before I was on the phone, calling around to reserve Veteran's Auditorium," Mounsey said. In addition to the Culver City performance Sunday and Dec. 4 at 1 and 4:30 p.m., the company will also perform at the Reseda High School auditorium Dec. 10 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2 and 6 p.m.
Parents, grandparents, dancers and friends of dancers transported lighting and scenery, sold tickets and made props.
Since Westside Ballet's corps is drawn from its Santa Monica dance school, turnover among its personnel has been high, although Mounsey and Valaire attempt to keep training up to their personal credentials. Formerly with New York City Ballet, Mounsey joined George Balanchine's company after performing with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Valaire was a member of the Royal Ballet and has staged full-length productions for the Compania Nacional de Danza of Mexico City and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
A spokeswoman for Youth Theatre Guild said that over the years Westside Ballet's principal dancers weren't always of a consistent quality.
"They're a dance school and dancers come and go. It's like a football team," said guild secretary Marlea Ramsey. "One year you may have a great team and the next, you may lose some players.
"Now (choreographer) Uta Graf-Apostol teaches a different way and a totally different style. To me, this whole (cancellation) is much ado about nothing. We just needed a change."
The Guild's Anderson also indicated that Westside's costs escalated annually and felt, after a lean 1986, that cutbacks were necessary. Operating costs of performances in Royce Hall alone, for example, totaled more than $28,000.
"We felt that Palos Verdes Ballet has a lot to offer within our price range," Ramsey said.
The Guild's decision to book the Palos Verdes company for this Christmas' performances came after seeing director Fay Gillette's staging of "Cinderella" last year and learning that former Leningrad Children's Musical Theatre dancer Regina Zarhina has joined the Palos Verdes company. She will dance the "Russian Chocolate" role in the second act of the ballet at El Camino College Dec. 3 and 4, followed by performances at UCLA's Royce Hall, La Mirada Civic Theater and Norris Theatre in Palos Verdes.