By Julianne Homokay
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls,” wrote Joseph Campbell, the renowned author and professor of literature.
Sharon McCormick, director and choreographer, has been following hers for years now, gifting the mountain communities with the Lake Arrowhead School of Dance and Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company, culminating in the company’s production of The Nutcracker.
The production returns to the Performing Arts Center at Rim of the World High School this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company’s mission is to “foster, nurture and support the artistic development of our mountain youth through exposure to dance” and this production does that in a unique way: Three professional dancers will perform alongside McCormick’s students.
This year, Robbie Downey will dance the Sugarplum Fairy; Anthony Tette will perform the Cavalier; Michael Tomlin III, an LACBC veteran of almost a decade, will do the Nutcracker and Arabian; and Raymond Genato, a veteran of 30 years, has been brought in to perform the mysterious Drosselmeyer.
Featured dancers from McCormick’s Lake Arrowhead School of Dance include Jessica Stufkosky as Clara and Matheson Bear as Fritz.
This year’s production also has a special theme: reminiscing on 30 years of The Nutcracker. In the lobby, patrons will find costumes on display, accompanied by pictures of the dancers who wore them. To commemorate his 30 years with LACBC, Tony Gardner, designer of the mouse, dragon and nutcracker heads, has designed and donated miniatures of the Mouse King, Nutcracker, Mouse and Mouse Princess heads, keepsakes that will be available for purchase. Some of the miniatures have been painted by professional artists, and kits will be available for those who wish to paint their own.
“This is our year of showing appreciation and respect to those who donated their artistry and their time to our tiny ballet company,” McCormick says.
The Nutcracker became quite popular as a holiday staple in the United States after George Balanchine, the artistic director/choreographer of New York City Ballet, mounted his first production of the ballet in 1954. Professional ballet companies will typically mount the show using the traditional Balanchine choreography, but McCormick isn’t interested in the same-old same-old.
“I want to be able to think of new things,” she says and, each year, she’ll tailor her choreography to her performers’ strengths. The bonus is that, each year, the audience sees a new and different show.
This year’s re-imagined scenes include Mirlitons, where Clara will join for the first time, new Snow and Waltz of the Flowers choreography and Trepak with four female dancers. In keeping with this year’s theme, she is also bringing back Spanish, with flamenco choreography by the late guest choreographer Armando Neri.
In fact, McCormick has a history of following her creativity wherever it leads. She took some dance lessons when she was 3, but in a family of eight with parochial school tuition for all six kids, there wasn’t a lot of money left over for extracurriculars. So, she directed plays for the neighborhood kids to perform for their parents, with curtains made out of sheets and costumes fashioned from cardboard boxes. She eventually found her way back to dance at Santa Monica College, at first as a cheerleader and on the dance drill team that performed at L.A. Rams games. When a friend suggested they try a ballet class, she was hooked.
McCormick had always wanted to teach so, after she and her husband moved up to Lake Arrowhead, she followed her bliss and founded the Lake Arrowhead School of Dance in 1981, even though people told her it was a crazy idea. Next came Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company in 1992. For McCormick, it’s all about “what can you gift the children and what can the children gift to the community?” And the result of McCormick’s creativity is surely her gift to our mountain communities.
Performances of Lake Arrowhead Classical Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker will run Friday, Dec. 3 at 7pm; Saturday, Dec. 4 at 7pm; and Sunday, Dec. 5 at 2:30pm. Tickets are available at arrowheadballet.org. For more information: (909)-336-1359 or [email protected].