New Ballet’s The San Jose Nutcracker is set to sparkle this season with an expanded production featuring seven shows and five Claras.
With only three rehearsals in the theater, Founder-Artistic Director Dalia Rawson is doubling up the cast’s practices with as many “runs of the battle scene” as possible. The company is packing in ahead of opening night on December 16.
Last spring, ballet dancers from across the world auditioned, giving the artistic director a wide range to choose from, she says. This season, the cast boasts a diversity of Clara performers, including two students and three company dancers.
“I’ve had dancers as young as 11 and as old as 25 doing the role. I adjust the technical aspects of the choreography if I need to,” says Rawson.
Set in San Jose around 1905, Uncle Nikola–based on Nikola Tesla–introduces electricity with a real Tesla coil during a family holiday party. Clara receives a nutcracker doll, embarking on a magical adventure with the transformed nutcracker prince in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” a nod to San Jose’s history.
New Ballet’s reimagined Nutcracker presents a magical, imaginative take on a classic holiday favorite, with Clara as the ballet’s focal point.
“To me, Clara is the center of the ballet and it needs to be somebody with a compelling soul,” says Rawson. “One that shines on stage and tells a story that brings us to a place of hope and belief in adventure.”
Two accomplished company dancers, Ellis Broderick and Rebecca Nugent, are reprising the role of Clara this season.
Senior Ballerina Ellis Broderick dances principal roles with the New Ballet company. “She projects a sense of wonder that I think is very special and a beautiful quality to have for Clara,” says Rawson.
For Broderick, Clara represents the “child-like joy that emerges with the holiday season, and the desire to spend time celebrating with the people we love.”
In playing the role, Broderick aims to “reignite these feelings for the audience” by sharing her passion for ballet in a way that every person can connect to.
Rebecca Nugent, an Ethiopian-born New Ballet company dancer, brings a sincere, sweet wistfulness to the character, says Rawson. This will be Nugent’s third consecutive year performing in the role.
Her journey into ballet started as a teen, drawn by the music and captivated by the continuous growth and discipline of the art form. “I started dancing in different genres of dance—hip-hop, tap and jazz—and it wasn’t until I was about 12 that I wanted to do ballet,” she says. “Ballet is open. There’s never a time you’re just perfect at something, there’s a continuous growth and I’ve always loved that.”
Now, as a part of the San Jose community, she cherishes the adapted Nutcracker production, especially its local perspective and inclusive storytelling. “To me, playing the role of Clara in the Nutcracker is an honor because I have been given the opportunity to bring hope, representation and inclusivity to my community.”
The organization also provides a scholarship training program for youth from downtown Title 1 schools. Gabriela Rodriguez, a dancer from that program, ascended to the role of Clara after years of learning.
“As a little girl from a Hispanic background, I always imagined and dreamed about playing [this] role and dancing on pointe shoes. But I never saw one that looked like me. Personally, being Clara is a dream come true. Through hard work and determination I am now able to not only perform but truly bring the story out from the stage into the audience. [It’s] showing other little young dancers that there isn’t just one Clara.”
Hina Oshima (who commutes each day from Tracy to train at New Ballet School) and Jada Broussard (who’s trained with the group since she was three), are two students dancing as Clara in the production for the first time this season.
Oshima had previously trained with the San Francisco Ballet and has been dancing with New Ballet School for two years. Earlier this season, the dancer had dealt with a spinal imbalance, wherein overwhelmed joints caused her back to feel tired. After a short pause to rest, Oshima is now back to full health.
“To me, being Clara means I have the opportunity to contribute to the magic of the Nutcracker. I get to represent Clara’s curious and joyful personality and I hope to bring her character to life on stage,” she says.
Another student, Jada Broussard, began dancing at the school as a toddler after watching her older sister train at New Ballet. Now a high school senior, having understudied Clara for several years, Broussard is “a picture of dedication, teamwork and tenacity,” says Rawson, a testament to her improved technique.
As the curtain rises on this season’s The San Jose Nutcracker, Rawson anticipates a spectacular show with an increased number of dancers, more power and heightened energy on stage.
“With that, I’m hopeful that there will be a few moments that will crystallize in a way that we’ve never seen yet,” says Rawson. “The artistry and technique of the dancers every year gets better and better. Every cast you come and see will be different, so it will be a great show every night.”
Dec. 16-23, times vary