After a successful opening of its 2018-2019 season with Luna Mexicana, Oakland Ballet Company is ready to head back to the Paramount Theatre to perform Artistic Director Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker on December 22 and 23. This is truly a production filled with local talent; along with his company dancers, the Oakland Symphony and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir will also be featured.
After the shows, there will be several opportunities for audience members to interact with the performers. Following the matinees are Sweet Dreams Parties at which children of all ages can meet characters from the ballet while enjoying refreshments. An Encore Reception follows the Saturday evening show; adults will be served hors d’oeuvres and champagne while mingling with company dancers and artistic staff.
In the midst of his busy schedule, we had the opportunity to chat with Graham a bit more about what makes Oakland Ballet Company’s Nutcracker different and how the company invests their time in the community this holiday season. We also learned how the man who runs the show likes to spend his time when not in the studio or theatre.
Interview with Graham Lustig
What makes Oakland Ballet's Nutcracker unique?
What makes Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker unique is that first, it is the only professional Nutcracker production in the East Bay, and also this is the 47th season that the company has presented the Nutcracker in Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.
In addition, the Oakland Symphony performs the Tchaikovsky score in its entirety, including the addition of a children’s choir in the snow scene. Some special parts of our production include some plot twists as well: we have ten little dancing Snowballs in the Land of the Snow, and Marie and her Nutcracker fly to Confiturenburg (the Land of Sweets) in a tree ornament shaped like a hot-air balloon. My production is also set in Edwardian times, when women were were riding bicycles, no longer wearing corsets and becoming more self empowered by the fight for emancipation. The set design is Viennese, and this shows the birth of modernism.
Educational outreach is an integral part to Oakland Ballet's mission; what kind of special events will be held related to The Nutcracker?
Oakland Ballet Company annually donates many tickets to community members who might not otherwise be able to attend the performances. This season, we will bring in-school performances to eight under-served area schools, and nearly 40 schools will attend our educational matinee Nutcracker performance in the Paramount Theatre.
Do you continue to choreograph works outside of Oakland Ballet Company?
Much less these days. I’m really so very busy here that I hardly have any breathing space.
When you are not in the dance studio or at the theatre, what do you enjoy doing?
Well, I think I have two favorite pastimes. About 18 months ago I adopted a puppy. So one of the lovely things to do after a nasty sweaty day in the rehearsal studio is to go out, go to the shore which is only 15 minutes away from here and take a beach walk with the dog. With a sunset that is absolutely lovely. And then, since I moved here to California I’ve started keeping bees, so I have an apiary in the garden with beehives. And I’m doing that not because I want to harvest honey but actually because when I was walking around the amazing gardens around here I just thought, “Wow it’s so quiet, I don’t really see any bees”. And I think that’s a real issue. And it’s more if urban gardeners keep a hive in their garden…it’s not a question of 15,000 hives on a hill in a country – what we need is many more single hives dotted all over the country and then the bee colonies will get stronger again. It’s a fun thing to do. I was terribly scared when I first started.
Wait...do you have a suit?
Oh, I do! Are you kidding me?! But it’s amazing. The bees don’t actually want to sting you; they want to get on with what they’re doing. I’ve learned a lot about bee keeping and maybe if I’m lucky enough, in the futre I’ll go on to mead, the wine that you make from the honey.
If you could choose a ballet scene that most reflects your life right now, what would it be?
Oh my gosh…I’m not sure if I’m Seigfried casting myself off the rock at the end of that tour…or there’s Tsarevich at the end of Firebird slowly pointing my way to heaven…or Petroushka caught in the cell room where he can’t get out! [Editor’s note: Being a natural performer, Graham cannot help but gesture these scenes while talking.] So maybe one of those scenarios but I’m not sure which one today.
Featured Photo of Graham Lustig with Alysia Chang and Calvin Thomas © John Hefti
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