Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 30th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Sugar Plum Dreams

Nutcracker1Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre celebrates 30 years and its 11th annual production of ‘The Nutcracker’

While watching Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre perform “The Nutcracker” for the first time at 9 years old, Melody Mennite knew it was something she had to be a part of. Twenty years later, the Santa Cruz native and professional ballerina considers “The Nutcracker” an old friend.

“I really enjoy that it’s the only thing in my career that I get to revisit every year,” says Mennite. “For the most part, the story, the music, and the overall feeling, you know, the magic of it doesn’t change.”

From her time training at the SCBT studio, to her current role as a Houston Ballet principal dancer, Mennite has climbed the ranks within the production—from dancing at age 10 as Clara, to performing this month as the Sugar Plum Fairy. This will be the seventh year that Mennite returns to Santa Cruz from Texas to guest dance in SCBT’s annual production.

In its 11th year, “The Nutcracker” runs Dec. 20-22 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Keeping with tradition, the production stars a cast of students from the SCBT studio, professional guest dancers, and a 49-piece live orchestra.

“The orchestra is one thing that sets us apart from most ‘Nutcrackers,’” explains Robert Kelley, co-executive artistic director for SCBT. “In this economic climate very few ballet companies, certainly the size of ours, have the revenue to hire this kind of orchestra.”

For more than a decade, however, a union orchestra of 49 musicians or more has been the standard for SCBT. Administrators, dancers and musicians have all described the orchestra as a “living, breathing entity” because it never performs the same way twice, and it sets the tone (literally and metaphorically) for the entire performance.

“People hear ‘The Nutcracker’ so much in a popular culture context, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s a work of genius,” says Pamela Martin, SCBT orchestra conductor. “There’s spontaneity to the orchestra—it’s a totally different experience.”

Mennite agrees that the unpredictability of the orchestra is what makes dancing to live music so exciting. More importantly, Mennite sees the combination of live music, live dance, and traditional holiday cheer in “The Nutcracker” as an important experience for children in the audience.

Nutcracker2“This production is geared very heavily toward children and it's a great way to bring art into a young person’s life,” explains Mennite. “I can say from a professional standpoint, you don’t always have that chance to share with a young audience in other ballets.”

That emphasis on families combined with Kelley’s choreography, which stays as true to the original ballet as possible, makes SCBT’s production a classic holiday tradition that all generations can enjoy.

“I think in our fast-changing society, people like to hold onto tradition—and traditions are traditions because they stay the same,” says Kelley. “When I go to see ‘The Nutcracker’ I don't want to be aware of big changes. It wouldn't be my favorite holiday tradition if it wasn't the same as last year.”

While there were some minute adjustments made to the choreography to accommodate new dancers, it is almost identical to the choreography that SCBT used 11 years ago. Likewise, the score, the venue, the tech crew and even the directors have remained the same over the years.

While “The Nutcracker” may seem frozen in time, audiences look forward to the ever-changing cast of dancers. Every year SCBT students as young as 4 are training and inevitably climbing the ranks just as Mennite did. As dancers get older and move on, a new generation fills their roles.

 “Our kids walk down the hallways and see images of our alumni on the walls and when they see someone like Melody in person, they are awestruck,” laughs Kelley. “The coolest thing about it is that they know that she came from Santa Cruz, they know she started in the studio, and they know it’s possible for them to be like her when they grow up.”

Cast this year as the Baby Mouse, 11-year-old Milana Beck has already set her sights on one day being cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy. In her fifth year participating in SCBT’s “The Nutcracker,” Beck is still learning how to be a ballerina, a student, and a teacher within the SCBT community.

“I’ve enjoyed working with the range of dancers because I’m in that in-between age where I can teach the younger dancers stuff that I’ve learned from the older dancers,” explains Beck. “I like teaching—it’s kind of like passing down. I can look up to the older dancers and the younger dancers look up to me.” 

Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” runs Dec. 20-22 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. For tickets and info, visit or call 420-5260.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location