That magical moment in "The Nutcracker" ballet never fails to dazzle the audience. Suddenly, the glimmering standard-size Christmas tree grows upward and outward until it reaches the rafters of the stage.
Stunned children gape in amazement. How did they do that?
"That's our secret," laughed Selma Lamb, an Oxnard ballet instructor. She is once again putting the final touches on a production of the famous ballet that has become traditional holiday fare.
The magic will unfold Saturday when more than 100 dancers take the stage at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium to perform "The Nutcracker," a joint effort by the Channel Islands Ballet Company and the Ventura County Symphony. The ballet will also be presented Sunday and Dec. 14-16.
It's a ballet for and about children, but adults see it year after year too, said Lamb, artistic director for the ballet company, now in its 11th production of "The Nutcracker."
Set to the music of Peter Tchaikovsky, the ballet is the story of Christmas Eve at the Silberhaus home in Germany around the turn of the century. The Silberhaus children, Clara and Fritz, are anxiously waiting for the family's Christmas party to start.
When they finally enter the living room, it is ablaze with the glowing Christmas tree and colorfully wrapped presents. During the party, their uncle, the eccentric Drosselmeyer, performs magic tricks. He gives Clara a special gift, the nutcracker doll.
At the party's end, Clara falls asleep on the sofa in the living room. Her dream is the heart of the ballet. The nutcracker is suddenly alive and he protects her from an attack by the mouse king and his army of mice. He turns into a prince, and by the time Clara awakens she's traveled to several exotic spots.
Any young dancer, said Lamb, dreams of performing the role of Clara.
This year the honor goes to 11-year-old Angela Junck of Ojai, who has danced it the past two years. Junck has been a ballet student at Lamb's Ballet Academie in Oxnard since she was 4. She worked her way up in the ballet, first performing minor roles.
The nutcracker prince is performed by Nikolas Saum of Camarillo. Christopher Evans, 7, of Ventura takes the role of Fritz.
Kathaleen Hale of Oxnard, who graduates from high school this year, will dance the dewdrop solo in the "Waltz of the Flowers." Making a comeback as the Snow Queen is Wendy Nachazel, 28, of Ventura. She danced the part in high school, then took a break for marriage and two children. Now she's back doing the evening performances, while Danah Bella of Ventura dances the Sunday matinees.
This year the magician Drosselmeyer will be less sinister and more mystical, Lamb said. Don McMahon, a local actor, makes his debut in the role.
Returning again as special guest artists are Diana Kettler as the Sugar Plum Fairy and James Dunne as the Cavalier. Both have danced with major ballet companies around the world.
The ballet is long--2 1/2 hours. It's a chance not only to see a classic ballet, but to hear a full symphony orchestra under the direction of Frank Salazar.
WHERE AND WHEN
"The Nutcracker" ballet, performed jointly by the Channel Islands Ballet Company and the Ventura County Symphony, will run Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 14, 15, and 16 at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium, 800 Hobson Way. Tickets are $21, $17, $13, and $9. They are available at the auditorium; Ticketmaster outlets, 583-8700; the Ventura County Symphony office, 3471 Foothill Road, Ventura, 643-8646; and Ballet Academie, 136 W. First St., Oxnard, 483-3744.