Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker”
By Betty Sanchez
Right around the turn of this millennium, Melody graduated early from high school and moved to Houston, where she has developed into one of Houston Ballet’s leading principal dancers. This December, Melody will return home to star in Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Melody has returned several times to Santa Cruz to dance in the production, and audiences here can delight in seeing how this star continues to shine brighter every year.
Melody recently took some time out of her busy rehearsal and performance schedule to reflect on her return as a guest artist to her alma mater. Since she has danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy so many times in her career, it is almost like interviewing the character herself. She is poised, effervescent and eloquent.
When asked what it feels like to dance at home again, she responds, “It feels amazing! The warmth and comfort of being home never fades. These are my roots. I’m struck year after year by how welcome I feel and how the environment of hard work and passion mixed with playfulness and fun stays the same through each generation of dancers.
Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre is a special place to dance and I’m glad I get to come back to it each year, even if only for a few days.”
This year Melody will be partnered by fellow Houston Ballet principal dancer Ian Casady. Ian was born and trained in Marin County, so it is special to welcome him back to the bay area as a guest artist. Melody says he is one of the best partners in the business and that everyone wants to be partnered by him. Ian is one of the three male principal dancers at Houston Ballet that partners Melody in classical works. Santa Cruz is in for a treat with Ian accompanying Melody on the stage at the Civic Auditorium.
In preparation for dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Melody spends time building stamina and fine-tuning coordination, timing and nuances with her partner in rehearsal. She says her interpretation of the character has changed over the years as she’s matured as an artist, and she elaborates, “Sugar Plum Fairy is a very challenging role. She’s a bit removed from the real action of the story and in the quietness of her dances she can feel aloof or disconnected. The flip side of that is that her ethereal nature and mysterious sophistication shine in that setup.
“Physically, Sugar is no joke. It’s very difficult. Over the years I’ve loved honing in on tackling the purity of technique and pushing myself to grow into that effortless warmth that settles on top of the grit of mastering such challenging steps. I’ve also found ways to play with the music that have shifted each year. Sugar has changed from a challenge I used to feel overwhelmed by, to a welcome reprieve of artistic and technical classical exploration. It’s a great yardstick of growth in classical technique too! I can see how I’ve changed from year to year. I also just enjoy being a fairy queen who makes a little girl’s best dream come true… who wouldn’t love that?”
Melody says her favorite thing about the Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre “Nutcracker” is the kids. “Watching them dance and create art onstage each night fills my heart. I love the atmosphere of celebration and community that Nutcracker seems to cultivate in the performers and in the audience and community. It really is a magical time of year!”
Melody is joined onstage by over seventy local dancers who perform exquisite choreography by Co-Artistic Director Robert Kelley. Some of these dancers might follow in Melody’s footsteps and become the stars of tomorrow.
Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” is performed with a live 52-piece orchestra, conducted by SCBT Music Director Pamela Martin. Performances are December 15, 16 and 17 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased online at SantaCruzTickets.com or through scbt.org or at the Santa Cruz Civic Box Office.