In 1983, two years after the opening of the Long Beach ballet school and only one year after the humble beginnings of a new professional ballet company, David Wilcox was offered a spot at the Long Beach Terrace Theater to produce a new production of “The Nutcracker.” In the spirit of adventure and with the confidence borne only from the success of his first full-length choreography, “Hansel and Gretel”, Wilcox set about the task of creating, from scratch, a theatrical extravaganza that became Southern California’s favorite holiday performance.
He assembled a team including former Disney designer Elliot Hessayon, flying wizard Peter Foy, Universal Studios pyro-technician John Bordeaux, magician Franz Harary, and even Traveler the Trojan Horse, venturing into an experiment of theatrical wizardry ahead of its time, especially for classical ballet.
In the photo above, Helena Ross performed the role of Clara for three years and then grew into the roles of the Dewdrop Fairy and the Sugar Plum Fairy before joining the Vienna State Opera Ballet.
In the photo at right (Photo B) we see the sparse 2nd act scenery that dressed the stage for the first performances in 1983 and 1984, both in Long Beach and at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
Over the ensuing 32 years, this production was seen by over half of a million people in numerous theaters, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Shrine Auditorium, and the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, but the theater for which the production was designed, the elegant and spacious Terrace Theater, has been its host for 28 of the last 33 years.
In 1996 and 1997 excerpts were presented live on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno (photo C). In 2009 “The Ultimate Cake-Off” featured Long Beach Ballet’s Nutcracker for one episode’s theme, and Long Beach ballerina Melissa Sandvig was a finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Following the 1997 Nutcracker season, Long Beach Ballet’s professional company ceased operations and for the following three years Wilcox staged the production with the students from his Academy in a high school auditorium.
In 1999 China’s second largest classical ballet company, the Guangzhou Ballet, engaged Wilcox to recreate his version of the ballet for them, purchasing the rights to perform it throughout the world which they have done consistently for the past 16 years (photo E).
The technical and artistic growth of the students eventually allowed Wilcox to take the production back to the Terrace Theater in 2002, and then by the year 2009, once again to the Pasadena Civic where the audience doubled in size from 2009 to 2010. Long Beach Ballet continues a tradition of heartfelt public praise as Southern California’s most popular production of “The Nutcracker”.