Tag Archives: holiday events

The land of sweets

Children dance in pastel candy cane costumes during George Balanchine's The Nutcracker performed by New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center

We visited the “Land of Sweets” and other parts of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”™ last night as PBS aired an episode of “Live From Lincoln Center” featuring a performance by the New York City Ballet, the New York City Ballet Orchestra and 50 children from the School of American Ballet in New York.

James and I take a special interest in productions of the famous holiday ballet because both our daughters have performed in “The Nutcracker” with Ballet Arizona under artistic director Ib Andersen, who premiered his own choreography for the work in 2006. His is one of several productions of “The Nutcracker” being performed this season on Valley stages.

We were struck throughout by the many differences in the two productions, a valuable reminder of just how fascinating it can be to see and compare various versions of the same work. You can read the story of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” told by The New York City Ballet on their website — where you’ll also find plenty of fun facts about how it’s translated to the stage.

We noticed early on that children are featured much more prominently in the New York City Ballet production. There are more of them, and they get more time on stage. They spend more time dancing, and acting — and it appears NYC is more blessed than Phoenix in the boys who ballet department. Both boys and girls featured in the party scene are more rambuctious, and the children’s choregraphy is more complex in many cases.

Herr Drosselmeyer has a whole different vibe in the New York City Ballet production. There’s one particular scene in the Ballet Arizona production where I get a real sense of foreboding as Herr Drosselmeyer walks slowly towards Clara, but there’s little of that tension in the New York City Ballet production. It’s hard to dread a man wearing knickers and swanky black shoes. Forget the nutcracker doll. I want that man’s footwear.

We both have a strong preference for the Ballet Arizona set during Act I. But there’s one scene in the New York City production that I found quite magical — Marie’s early encounter with a mischievous Mouse, which transpires on a darkened set with lighting that projects giant shadows into the wall. There’s no Clara in the New York City Ballet production — instead, Fritz’s older sister is named Marie.

Try challenging your children to spot the differences when they watch various productions. Those seeing “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” for the first time might be surprised to see both Columbine and Harlequin performed by women, or to discover that the Mouse King has seven heads, each wearing a tiny gold crown. Those accustomed to a final scene featuring Clara awakening from a dream in the comfort of her own home will instead find Marie and her Prince whisked through the sky in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. The audience is left to wonder — was her journey just a dream, or something truly magical?

I adore the Act II set for the New York City Ballet production, a deliciously indulgent homage to old-fashioned sweets, frosted ornaments, colorful fruits, elegant candy and delicate lace doilies. Rather than sitting atop a throne of sorts, Marie and the Prince sit behind a counter topped with cake, fruits and candies — sometimes nibbling as they watch chocolate, coffee and tea dance nearby.

Costumes featuring colors of bright jellied candies and pale pastel mints add to the nostalgic feeling that you’ve just strolled into a candy shop of yore. As each dance transpires, the backdrop is lit with a different pop of color — sometimes pink like a flamingo, other times orange like a freshly-sliced guava. Sometimes purple, sometimes blue.

Still, bright shades of legwear sometimes made sets and lighting appear tame. Think bright yellow, like that one crayon you’re always afraid to pickup for fear it’ll taint your whole masterpiece. Someone with the New York City Ballet has a thing for tights and tutus that nearly glow in the dark.

But it’s the New York City Ballet prop choices that I found most intriguing. When the Snowflakes dance during a final scene in Act I, each holds something shaped a bit like a fan — but with five large balls on top that remind me of the pom poms my kids used during preschool craft time. James noticed it too, saying that he’d rather see the dancers “doing beautiful things with their hands.” Small unadorned Christmas trees held by the young Angels who open Act II felt just as out of place.

We’re creatures of habit, I suppose, so seeing a female soloist rather than a couple perform what we call the Arabian Dance felt jarring. In the Ballet Arizona production, this dance feels sensual and sultry, proving that “The Nutcracker” is perfect for both family outing and date night. We also missed all those kicks we’ve come to associate with the Russian Dance. I was charmed by the Candy Cane who jumped ten-plus times through a hoop, but James wanted his Cossacks back.

Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times saw 27 productions during his 2010 “Nutcracker Marathon Tour” — then named the Ballet Arizona production one of his favorites. Its dancers bring an artistry and athleticism rarely found in such balance and bounty. As charmed as I was by watching the New York City Ballet perform “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,” I’m still rooting for the hometown teams.

If you’ve yet to see a local production of “The Nutcracker” this season, think about attending a performance before “Live From Lincoln Center” re-airs Sunday afternoon. That way you can make your own comparisons and draw your own conclusions.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to find the Raising Arizona Kids calendar of events for December, which includes several productions of “The Nutcracker” — and here to read an earlier post featuring holiday dance productions. Click here to learn about an upcoming PBS broadcast of “The Little Mermaid” performed by the San Francisco Ballet.

Coming up: Poetry in motion, Children’s art classes


The man behind Mannheim Steamroller

When the “Pandora Unforgettable Holiday Moments on Ice” show rolls into town this weekend, it’ll feature musical performance by both David Archuleta and Mannheim Steamroller. Folk who want a little taste of the event can hit Scottsdale Fashion Square on Thursday.

The Pandora store is holding a show-related event from noon to 4pm on Nov. 10. Fans are invited to come out and enter for free ticket drawings, and to meet skaters from the show between 3pm and 4pm. 

I got my own sneak peek into Saturday’s show while chatting just a few days ago with Chip Davis, founder of Mannheim Steamroller — an innovative group of musicians with fans of all ages, including both my in-laws and my 18-year-old daughter Lizabeth.

Proof that Davis has always been a snappy dresser

Davis hails from a musical family in Ohio. Both grandmothers play piano — and one was the first to teach Davis to play when he was just five years old. Both of his parents are musicians and music teachers. “I grew up thinking this is what everybody does.”

Davis recalls singing and touring as a vocal soloist when he was just 1o years old. He took up the drums at age 11 but decided when he was 12 that he’d like to be an electrical engineer. Turns out he’s “not so great at math” and projects like building Heathkit radios led to “analyzing sounds” instead of engineering prowess.

While in 9th grade, Davis was recruited to play bassoon for the school band, something he later parlayed into making reeds and starting his own reed company. He’s also been a music teacher and a jingle writer.

Chip Davis during early Mannheim Steamroller days

“Each jingle is like my child,” says Davis. There are about 2,000 of them. For many years, he recalls, he wrote something new about every other day or so. Along the way he learned to write county western, and rhythym and blues, music. “I got my chops busted,” he says, “on a regular basis.”

Davis says he used to trade his jingle-writing skills for time in the recording studio — something that led to his first album, titled “Fresh Aire.” It’d be hard to sell, RCA told him, without a band and a name. So “Mannheim Steamroller” was born.

The name references a mid-18th century orchestra in Germany that discovered they could give listeners “gooseflesh” by gradually increasing the volume of their music and creating layers with the gradual addition of new instruments. Davis says he was about 25 years old when he made “Mannheim Steamroller” his moniker.

Today Mannheim Steamroller is best known for their Christmas music, which is what they’ll be performing at Pandora Unforgettable Holiday Moments on Ice. Davis noticed early on that Christmas events “bring three generations together.” 

A couple of  years ago, Davis did new arrangements for the live “Grinchmas” holiday show at the Universal Orlando Resort. The newly-released “Christmasville” CD, which includes the song “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch,” is the result. 

Nowadays Davis is working with the Mayo Clinic on a music playback device to support cardiac rehabilitation patients. “Music,” he shares, “is a strong pain diversion.” His music has also been heard on the international space staton and in nuclear submarines.

Still, Davis sounds very down to earth. He brags about daughter Kelly, age 20, and son Evan, age 15 — plus the two white timberwolves, Seti and Seth, who share their expansive property.

Davis and his family use three golf carts to get around, and love spending time with family pets that include a Corgi named “Bailey” and five horses. He loves his John Deere tractor, but it’s the baby horse named “Ghost” that seems to tug most at Davis’ heart.

— Lynn

Note: Grand Canyon University is offering a 33% discount on tickets for this event through Friday at 5pm. Folks can use promotional code VETSDAY to get the discount online at www.gcuarena.com, by phone at 602-639-8999, or at the GCU box office at 3300 W. Camelback Rd. in Phoenix. Watch for a taped national broadcast of the show Nov. 27 at 4pm EST on NBC.

Coming up: Prescott for families

Ballet meets botanicals?

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” It’s the simplified version of something Cicero wrote in a 46 B.C. letter to a friend. But dancers might say there’s another essential he’s overlooked — the ballet barre.

I’ve got ballet on the brain after hearing an NPR story about an exhibit of Degas works in Washington, D.C. that features not only Degas originals, but also two mirrors and a mounted ballet barre. A dancer from The Washington Ballet who found she needed to use the barre, not merely admire it, was interviewed for the NPR piece.

If you sometimes find yourself facing the uncontrollable urge to dance, I know a place where you’ll fit in beautifully (assuming you’re in the age 21 + set). It’s a “Dance with the Dancers” event taking place Fri, Nov. 11 at the future digs of Ballet Arizona — a warehouse at 2835 E. Washington in Phoenix. It’s being presented by “The Ballet Barre,” the company’s “young professional group.”

Nutcrackers from our daughter Lizabeth's days dancing in the ballet

Younger dance lovers have other opportunities to enjoy time with Ballet Arizona dancers, including a Sat, Dec. 10 event called “The Nutcracker Family Affair.” It’ll take place at the Phoenix Convention Center, since two of the three ticket options for this baby include seeing a Ballet Arizona performance of “The Nutcracker” at Symphony Hall nearby.

Folks enamored with fairy tales but unimpressed with television shows like “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time” can take in two ballets instead, and enjoy 25% savings with something Ballet Arizona calls their “Fairytale Package.” It includes tickets to “The Nutcracker” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” but is only available through Nov. 23.

Still, it’s a “ballet meets botanicals” work that I’m most eager to experience this season — the presentation by Ballet Arizona and the Desert Botanical Garden of “MOMIX: Botanica.” MOMIX is “a company of dancer-illusionists under the direction of Moses Pendleton” who’ve previously performed in the Valley at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

As winter holidays approach, remember that tickets to live theater, dance and music performance make great gifts for teachers, friends and family members  — and that several arts organizations, including Ballet Arizona, offer holiday boutiques that make it fun to shop while supporting the arts.

— Lynn

Note: The Opera & Ballet in Cinema Series presents a live simulcast of the Bolshoi Ballet production of “The Sleeping Beauty” featuring Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallbert in three Arizona theaters at 8am on Sun, Nov. 20. Hallberg attended Arizona School for the Arts and trained with Kee-Juan Han at Arizona Ballet School in Phoenix. Click here for details.

Coming up: Another glimpse of “Glee”

Tea times three!

It’s been a while since I did the tea party thing with my children, who now range in age from 18 to 22. But recently I’ve learned of three tea parties that almost leave me wishing I could turn them very tiny again.

The Ballet Academy of Arizona is holding their “Fairy Godmother’s Tea Party” Sun, Sept 25 from 3-5pm in the Camelback Ballroom at the Phoenician Resort & Spa in Scottsdale. It features a high tea (with menus for children and adults), singing, dancing and a silent auction.

Also an appearance by the fairy godmother and a performance by “Jolly Roger” the magician, who’s entertained at several parties my own children once attended.

Ballet Etudes holds their Nutcracker Sweet Tea in November

Yet another charming tea takes place this fall as Ballet Etudes presents its “Nutcracker Sweet Tea” both Sat, Nov 12 (at 10am and 11:30am) at the Wright House Reception Hall in Mesa and Sat, Nov 19 (at 11am) at the Johnson Ranch Golf Course in Queen Creek.

The “Nutcracker Sweet Tea” invites those who attend to explore the “Land of Sweets,” enjoy a light luncheon buffet, decorate their own cookies and listen in on storytime. They’ll also experience a Ballet Etudes performance.

Scottsdale Ballet Foundation presents their “Nutcracker Sweets Tea” Sun, Dec 4 from 11:30am-2pm at the Phoenix Country Club ballroom.

Another delightful dance event takes place Sun, Sept 18 at 1pm. Storybook Ballet, the student ballet company of Dance Theater West in Phoenix, and children from the Professional Artist Series program at Free Arts of Arizona present “Wonderland” at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Free Arts of Arizona is dedicated to healing abused and homeless children through artistic expression, and Dance Theater West is one of many community partners who join them on the journey. RSVPs for this free event are requested by Wed, Sept 14 (602-258-8100 or info@freeartsaz.org).

Like many parents, I spend far too much time chasing espresso when I should be sipping tea instead. How lovely that Valley arts organizations give us opportunities to slow down and really linger over time with our little ones, who don’t stay little for long.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about these family-friendly tea parties at www.balletacademyofarizona.org, www.balletetudes.net and www.scottsdaleballetfoundation.org. Visit Dance Theater West at www.dancetheaterwest.com and Free Arts of Arizona at www.freeartsaz.org. Local resorts like The Ritz-Carlton, The Phoenician, and The Arizona Biltmore offer high tea. Check with Girly Girlz for girl-friendly tea parties (www.girly-girlz.com).

Coming up: Celebrating holidays arts and culture style

Art in motion

Stephen Petronio Dance Company performs Nov 18 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

When I learned that Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is offering all sorts of four-performance packages, including an “Art in Motion” dance option, I decided to go in search of Valley dance offerings for the 2011/12 season.

First I uncovered a couple of summer offerings — including “From Africa: Bate Nico Dancers” at Chandler Center for the Arts (July 29) and “Arizona’s Got Dance! National Dance Showcase” at Tempe Center for the Arts (July 31).

Tucson high school students will perform in the vaudevillian song-and-dance musical “Chicago” July 28 & 30 at the Temple of Art and Music in Tucson. It’s part of the Arizona Theatre Company’s “Summer On Stage” program (which also includes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

Come Labor Day, you can enjoy 2009 World Hoop Dancing Champion Brian Hammill (Ho Chuck) at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Ballet Forklorico Quetzalli-AZ performs during the “12th Annual Chandler C3HR Mariachi Festival” Sept. 24 at Chandler Center for the Performing Arts.

“Ballet Under the Stars” heads to various Valley venues, including Tempe Center for the Arts — where dancers from Ballet Arizona will perform a blend of classical and contemporary works Sept 23 in a casual amphitheater setting (bring your blankets and lawn chairs).

Desert Dance Theatre presents the “Arizona Dance Festival” Oct 11 at Tempe Center for the Arts. Stay tuned to calendars for this and other venues, which often host recitals featuring students from local dance academies.

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts near Valentine's Day 2012

Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix presents their free Festival of the Arts Oct 1. Featured dance performers include Arizona Youth Ballet, Scorpius Dance Theatre, Dance Shoppe-Performance Company, EPIK Dance Company, Grand Canyon University Dance Ensemble, Kamalah Tribal Dance Company and Center Dance Ensemble.

Center Dance Ensemble is the resident modern dance company at Herberger Theater Center. Their vibrant 2011/12 season features “There is a Time for Dance” (Oct), “Frances Smith Cohen’s Snow Queen” (Dec), “Dance AZ/100” (March) and “American Voices” (April). They’re also hosting a “Spirit of the Season” event in December.

Mesa Arts Center presents a diverse slate of dance works this season — including Chinese acrobatic dance, Native American song & dance, “Blast!” from Broadway, urban Latin dance theater, tango with Cheryl Burke and Irish cabaret. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a “must see” for the serious dance afficianado, performs at MAC in March.

While they’re in town, the Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater will conduct a two-week residency, teaching the basics of Salsa dancing to Valley students and selecting 20 elementary-age students to perform at their evening show on Feb 11. Alvin Ailey dancers will offer master classes as well as one-day workshops during a March 12-16 “Spring Break Dance Intensive,” then return to perform at MAC March 24 & 25.

Many of our local dance companies offer rich education and outreach programs as well — so be sure and contact folks like Center Dance Ensemble and Ballet Arizona to learn about their many offerings for Valley students and youth.

Batsheva Dance Company performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts next year

Batsheva Dance Company performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts next March

My youngest daughter Lizabeth, who starts college this fall, studied with both Dance Theater West (the academy of Center Dance Ensemble and Storybook Ballet Theater) and Ballet Arizona for a total of more than ten years.

Though she’s not pursuing dance as a career, I know all those years of studying, performing and watching creative movement honed her body, mind and spirit.

— Lynn

Note: Photos courtesy of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (please note that the Stephen Petronia “Underland” performance “includes adult content”).

Coming up: Local dance studio owner on Lifetime’s controversial “Dance Moms” series

Native trails

Enjoy Native American arts in an outdoor setting at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts when NATIVE TRAILS kicks off on Jan 20, 2011

The Heard Museum in Phoenix is the place to be through Sun, Jan 2 — as they present the final days of this year’s “Holidays at the Heard” — featuring traditional and contemporary performance art and artist demonstrations, which are free with general museum admission.

One of many American Indian works on exhibit through Sunday at the Mesa Arts Center

Those who appreciate American Indian art will also want to see the “Transcending Traditions: Contemporary American Indian Artwork” exhibit at the Mesa Arts Center through Sun, Jan 2 only.

The exhibit features works in “a wide range of mediums” by more than 25 “established and emerging American Indian artists from across North America who integrate a contemporary flare to traditional indigenous art forms.”

Later in January 2011, you can enjoy the first of several “Native Trails” events at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The first event in the series takes place Thurs, Jan 20, at noon. More are scheduled through Sat, Apr 2.

These “Native Trails” events take place on the Center’s outdoor fountain stage. Take along a lawn chair or blanket so you’ll be more comfy enjoying the music, art, dance and traditional food (including Indian fry bread).

Sounds like a lovely lunchtime break from the office, a fun way to entertain visiting family or friends, or an easy playdate with fellow parents and their little ones.

Experience hoop dancing at the Heard Museum the first weekend of Feb 2011

There’s plenty more to experience at the Heard Museum — including the “World Championship Hoop Dance Contest” Sat, Feb 5, and Sun, Feb 6. It features “more than 70 of the top Native hoop dancers from the United States and Canada.”

The “53rd Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market” takes place Sat, March 5, and Sun, March 6. Think music, dance, artist demonstrations and the artwork of “more than 700 top American Indian artists.”

Other upcoming Heard Museum events include an “American Indian Art & Artifacts Appraisal Day” (Sat, March 19), “A Gathering of Carvers: Katsina Doll Marketplace” (Sat, Apr 2) and an “American Indian Student Art Show & Sale” (Apr 2-6).

The exhibit of American Indian dolls at the Heard Museum North ends on Sunday

One final exhibit of note, which you can see only through Sun, Jan 2, at the Heard Museum North Scottsdale — “More Than Child’s Play: American Indian Dolls.”

It features dolls, diverse in both materials and forms, which “reflect the vibrancy and range of Native life ways.”

— Lynn

Note: Always check with event venues before attending to confirm details (dates, times, locations, costs, etc.) — especially when bad weather might strike.

Coming up: Sneak peek at 2011 film festivals

From Celtic dance to chorus line

Students from the Celtic Dance Academy, which performs An Irish Nutcracker this weekend

My husband, James, was surprised to find me watching a performance of San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker” on PBS Sunday evening with the sound barely audible.

“What,” he asked, “you have all the music memorized?” Well, yes. Pretty much.

I’ve spent many a December stage mothering young performers in the Ballet Arizona production at Symphony Hall in Phoenix — where every note is another cue.

Time to help three children adjust their mouse heads. Adhere bright red circle stickers to cheeks of toy soldiers. Add wings and halos to dancers donning flowing angel gowns.

The performers and volunteers don’t see the production taking place. They experience only the music, exquisitely attuned to each new measure.

So I was delighted to learn of “An Irish Nutcracker,” being performed by the Celtic Dance Academy Sat, Dec 18, at the Mesa Arts Center — at both 3pm and 7:30pm.

It pairs the classic Nutcracker story with a journey through the “the land of Tir Na Nog where fairies, flowers and gypsies dance to Irish tunes.” So now I can enjoy seeing both the traditional ballet as well as a charming Celtic interpretation.

An Irish Nutcracker is one of several holiday dance performances you can enjoy in the Valley

Many of the Valley’s holiday dance traditions are covered in earlier “Stage Mom” posts — but I’m pleased to share another couple of dance events taking place this weekend at Mesa Arts Center.

Campbell’s Dance Studio presents “The Night Before Christmas” Sat, Dec 18, at 4pm. It’s the story of a family who’ve no presents on Christmas Eve — but discover instead that they know the true meaning of Christmas.

AZ Desert Dance presents “The Night Before Christmas” — featuring “a trip through your favorite mall” — Sat, Dec 18, at 7pm.

Those of you reading the fine print may suspect I’ve erred given overlapping times for events at the same venue. But never fear — because the MAC is home to several performing arts venues (and visual arts spaces), there’s often more than a single event taking place at any given time. Nifty.

There’s also plenty of classic dance on the Valley horizon once this holiday season has come and gone.

A Chorus Line” comes to the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix Jan 13-16, 2011. The tour also stops at the Mesa Arts Center Jan 11-12.

Broadway buffs don’t need the breakdown, but those not familiar with the show should know that it’s the tale of 17 dancers auditioning for a musical — something they’ve dreamed of, and worked for, most of their lives.

A Chorus Line comes to two Valley venues during January 2011

“Lord of the Dance” comes to the Orpheum Theater Jan 28-29, 2011. Michael Flatley originated the “Lord” role and now serves as artistic director of the production — which couples traditional and modern forms of dance. Think fast, fancy footwork and spirited tunes.

Stay tuned for word of more dance delights coming to the Valley — and drop a line if your child’s school, dance studio or community group is presenting a dance performance that you’d like to share with our readers.

The best dancers are those we call daughter, sister, brother or son — mother, father, teacher or friend.

— Lynn

Coming up: “A Night at the Museum” and other galas to benefit the arts