Guest Artists Tiler Peck, Lucia Connolly and Lyrica Woodruff, Mark Full Circle Moment with Westside Ballet's 50th Nutcracker
The most magical Nutcracker yet, featuring star alumni, exquisite new designs, and a legacy of excellence.
November 22, 2023
Westside Ballet of Santa Monica's 50th-anniversary celebration of "The Nutcracker," Southern California's longest-running rendition has completely sold out two weeks before it's showtime at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, which will run Nov. 25 - Dec. 3.
Since its debut in 1973, this beloved production has become a cherished tradition, captivating audiences with its magical allure. Three illustrious Westside Ballet alumni-special guest stars Tiler Peck, Lucia Connolly, and Lyrica Woodruff-will each take center stage as the enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy. These extraordinary artists return to their roots, making these performances truly memorable.
*BREAKING NEWS* - Watch From Home!
At time of writing, the nonprofit performance company’s producers have announced Westside Ballet will offer a free Vimeo link for anyone in the community who missed procuring early tickets, to watch the performance on their big screens at home.
Elevated Production and Music
Set to the majestic score of Tchaikovsky led by The Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra, this year's milestone production will amaze audiences with newly enhanced set designs and costumes. Featuring over 107 dancers, 225 costumes, and four lavishly designed scenes, Westside Ballet's "Nutcracker" retains the most memorable traditional characters and iconic moments-including a tree that grows, a firing cannon, Angels gliding on clouds, and falling snow over a stunning corps de ballet.
Westside Ballet: A Remarkable History
Westside Ballet's story begins in 1973 when Yvonne Mounsey, renowned for her illustrious career with the New York City Ballet, shared her love for ballet and the arts with the Santa Monica community. In collaboration with Rosemary Valaire, another distinguished ballet artist from the Royal Ballet, Mounsey founded Westside Ballet. Over the past five decades, Westside Ballet has remained dedicated to providing promising young dancers with opportunities for artistic development.
Mounsey's legacy, both as a performer and a mentor, continues to shine through her students' extraordinary achievements and through the leadership of the co-founders' former student, Martine Harley (Houston Ballet), who took over as Artistic Director in 2013 after Mounsey's passing.
Based on the romanticist E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and the Marius Petipa classic, Westside's "Nutcracker" preserves the spirit of choreographer George Balanchine as carried on by Mounsey, who pioneered the role of Center Spanish while a New York City Ballet principal dancer.
Of the 107 student performers, 47 are residents or students in Santa Monica-including Kyler Sziraki (12) who shares the lead role of Clara with West LA resident Delilah Ahmadi.
"The first live ballet I ever saw was Westside Ballet's Nutcracker at The Broad. I was five years old and I was absolutely mesmerized," shares Kyler. "I begged my mother to enroll me in classes and it became my goal right then and there to perform in the Nutcracker someday. And now, seven years later, to be dancing on that very same stage as the role of Clara is a dream come true. And especially this year, to be dancing alongside my longtime ballet idols is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. For my last birthday, I asked for Tiler Peck tickets and here I am, dancing next to her! Ballet has taught me that with persistence, patience, hard work, and a little bit of luck, anything can be possible."
Dancing the coveted Dew Drop Fairy role are two student full-time trainees, Francisca Bugacov and Hadley Hill, from the new collaborative program between Westside Ballet & Los Angeles Ballet, now headed up by Melissa Barak, a Westside Ballet alumna (and protégé of Mounsey).
"To be part of a legacy is a very special feeling that is both very inspiring and motivating," says Francisca. "Looking back at videos of the old Sugar Plums and Dew Drops of Westside not only is interesting to see how the school has changed in some aspects and remained the same in others, but it opens my eyes to the challenge ahead of me of filling a role that has been danced amazingly before. This 50th year of the Nutcracker with alumni Lucia Connolly, Lyrica Woodruff, and Tiler Peck will not only be motivating to all of us dancing alongside them this year, it will also bring a piece of Yvonne's legacy to the audience as well."
Golden Jubilee Celebration with Star Alumni
In honor of this special occasion, Westside Ballet is proud to present three star alumni accompanied by two accomplished male guest artists to dance in the leading roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier:
*Tiler Peck: Hailing from Bakersfield, California, Tiler Peck studied with Yvonne Mounsey before joining the School of American Ballet at age 14. She has since risen to become one of the leading American ballerinas of our time. A Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet, Peck's talents extend beyond the stage. She's a dancer, actress, choreographer, author, and designer. Ms. Peck's artistic journey continues to evolve, with recent endeavors to include curating and directing the acclaimed program "Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends." A true luminary, Tiler Peck's contribution to this anniversary production is a testament to her enduring connection with Westside Ballet's legacy.
*Roman Mejia: A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Roman Mejia's journey from a young ballet student to a Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet is a testament to his talent and dedication. He has been featured as one of Dance Magazine's "25 To Watch" and is a recipient of the prestigious Princess Grace Foundation - USA Dance Fellowship.
*Lucia Connolly: A Company Artist with the Joffrey Ballet since 2016, Lucia Connolly began her training at Westside School of Ballet under the guidance of Yvonne Mounsey, followed by the School of American Ballet in 2014 under the direction of Kay Mazzo. Ms. Connolly joined the Joffrey Ballet in 2016-originating roles in many contemporary works such as Yuri Possokov's "Anna Karenina" and performing classics by Balanchine, Robbins, Justin Peck-where she continues to captivate audiences with her artistry.
*Lyrica Woodruff: Another Westside Ballet alumna who studied with Westside Ballet co-founder Yvonne Mounsey, Lyrica Woodruff's ballet career took her from "The Nutcracker'' to Broadway's "Anastasia." She won the Chita Rivera Award for her dancing on Broadway, danced at The Kennedy Center in "Little Dancer" with Tiler Peck, and has appeared in several television series and films. Ms. Woodruff's journey from Westside Ballet to Broadway exemplifies the organization's commitment to nurturing young talent.
*Maté Szentes: Hungarian-born dancer and choreographer, Maté Szentes' journey from the Hungarian Dance Academy to becoming a permanent guest principal dancer and choreographer has left his indelible mark on the SoCal ballet world. His dynamic performances with Richmond Ballet, American Contemporary Ballet, Barak Ballet, and now Los Angeles Ballet have been praised as "a disruptive force" by the Los Angeles Times.
Resident Guest Artists
Westside Ballet's Resident Guest Artist of 10 years, Evan Swenson, will reprise the principal role of the Snow Queen's Cavalier, as well as the Arabian pas de deux. A native of central California, Mr. Swenson was accepted to the Houston Ballet Academy on full scholarship at age 17. He has worked with several SoCal companies such as Helios Dance Theater, Barak Ballet, Clairobscur, Backhaus Dance, Inland Pacific Ballet, and as a guest artist at several studio companies throughout the state. The fourth male guest principal, Jack Virga Hall, will alternate with Mr. Swenson in the Arabian pas de deux. Mr. Hall is co-director of Ohana Dance and an ABT-certified teacher based out of Los Angeles.
Westside Ballet will perform an abbreviated version of the ballet in a private matinee presentation for approximately 1,000 elementary grade students in the Santa Monica-Malibu and the Los Angeles Unified School districts on Wednesday, November 29 for two matinee showcases. Additionally, Westside Ballet will open its doors for a gratis performance to local Veterans and members of many local charities and organizations on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7pm.
Please email [email protected] for the Vimeo link to the Nutcracker performance.