TORRANCE — This year marks the 10th anniversary of South Bay Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”  Dancers who started out as tiny mice in early productions have graduated to bigger roles of the full-length seasonal classic, which shows Dec. 20, 21 and 22 at El Camino College Center for the Arts, Marsee Auditorium (near the intersection of Crenshaw and Redondo Beach Boulevard).

A scene from South Bay Ballet's "Nutcracker." (Photo by Michael Khoury)
A scene from South Bay Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” (Photo by Michael Khoury)

Mayu Odaka, 16, of Redondo Beach has danced in every performance of South Bay Ballet’s version of the holiday ballet for the past ten years. This year she takes on the principal role of Dream Clara, which is unique to South Bay Ballet’s rendition. Grandmother Clara tells the story of a young girl on Christmas Eve, whose dream of becoming a ballerina takes her on exciting adventures with her Nutcracker Prince, meeting many enchanting characters in the land of ice and snow and the kingdom of the sweets.

Odaka first saw “The Nutcracker” performed by American Ballet Theatre as a toddler, when she became entranced by the art form. “I began taking ballet lessons at Lauridsen Ballet Centre when I was four years old,” she recalls. “My very first role with South Bay Ballet was a Gingersnap in ‘Toyshop,’ a holiday ballet that came before ‘The Nutcracker.’

“Each year, I look forward to the production. It never does get old. The roles are very challenging to learn. Your body gets physically tired, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of ‘Nutcracker.’ I enjoy performing on stage and making the audience so happy that they remember the ballet long after it is over.”

Artistic Director Diane Lauridsen adds, “South Bay Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ is different because of the special twist to the traditional story with Clara transitioning from Grandmother Clara to Little Clara to Dream Clara, and back again. It’s all part of the fantasy – the dream.”

This year’s production has 119 members in the ensemble – with just a few of the principals dancing only one role throughout the three performances. The rest of the cast, including guest appearances by South Bay Ballet alumni Tracy Jones, Elizabeth Simoens and Ty Molbak, is often double- and even triple-cast in various supporting roles and cameo parts.

Lauridsen has personally trained the dancers in the company, and has molded many of them into top-level, professional dancers. “I believe that Southland audiences are blown away each year with the breadth and scope of what we’ve been able to do here,” she says.  “We present a professional quality theater experience for everyone.”

The 10th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” opens at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20, continuing at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21, with the closing performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22. For tickets, call the Marsee Auditorium box office at (310) 329-5345 or visit Adults, $30; children 12 and under, $20; premium seating, $50.

The non-profit’s annual Nutcracker Dinner & Silent Auction will take place at the Buffalo Fire Department in Torrance with live entertainment, spirits and a three-course sit-down dinner on Sunday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m. For information and tickets, visit the website or phone (310) 831-6363. Adults, $75; children 10 and under, $35.

South Bay Ballet provides quality artistic performances to the community as well as outstanding training to young and pre-professional dancers. Under the guidance of Lauridsen and Assistant Artistic Director Elijah Pressman, the company’s mission is to change lives by providing the finest in training to youth and performances that inspire and enrich the community.

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