Westside Ballet Sells Out the Broad Stage for 9th Year in Residence

The performance company’s 49th Season of the Holiday Classic featured several Palisades Dancers

The longest-running NUTCRACKER production in SoCal returned for a 10 day run Nov. 26 – Dec. 4  to The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The second weekend was completely sold out for Westside Ballet of Santa Monica’s 9th year running at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.  

The cast of over 85 student dancers included 10 Palisades residents and students who shared the stage in the nonprofit performance company’s 49th Nutcracker Season. 

Snow flurries: Palisadian Ava Bakhshandehpour (right) performs as a Snowflake in the difficult corps de ballet in Tchaikovsky’s sublime Waltz of the Snowflakes. Also pictured Christopher Toledo (Prince, left), Sophie Wilson (as Clara), and Eleanore Smith (back). Photo: Anne Slattery.

An avid ballet aficionado, Pat Margulies, posted a Facebook review echoing many audience goers reactions: “I have seen Nutcracker productions EVERYWHERE and FOREVER … THIS Broad Theater / Westside Ballet of Santa Monica WAS THE BEST PERFORMANCE I have ever seen! It was a traditional story with the most exquisite dancing and beautiful feelings from the cast. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!!! I cried several times! That’s how good and perfect it all was. Again, thank you.”

The company was met with standing ovations and loud cheers for many acts—especially the acrobatic leaps of Westside School of Ballet’s Boys Division elite dancers, Sawyer Jordan and Dylan Weinstein, who performed a Russian dance that features high jumps and ballet technique, re-choreographed by Associate Executive Director Adrian Blake Mitchell (Mikhailovsky Theatre).  

Elite young male dancer Dylan Weinstein (15) performs the Sugar Plum Cavalier in Westside Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’ abbreviated performance, put on for fifth graders on Friday. Photo: Anne Slattery.

Additionally, Sawyer and Dylan each performed as the lead Sugar Plum Cavalier in the “Nutcracker Suite,” which Westside performs for 1,000 elementary school students in the Santa Monica-Malibu and Los Angeles Unified School districts. The ballet was narrated to ballet excerpts, followed by Q&A with the dancers. Performances were at 11 am Wednesday Nov. 30 and Friday Dec. 2.

Evan Hull joined Dylan in performing the iconic Toy Soldier. Sawyer and Dylan also brought their prowess to the Battle scene in the Nutcracker and Mouse King’s duel. Sawyer and Dylan are sophomores at SaMoHi. New to the company, Evan travels all the way from Porter Ranch nearly every day for rehearsals and classes. 

Another reviewer wrote on Square, “Spectacular!!! The dancers were all professional and never missed timing. I am so moved and want to see more. They were dancing lightly, it was Ike, a group of Angels moving to great music. I hope to hear more about the programs and dates. Everyone was exceptional and a star!!! BRAVO”

The Los Angeles community has been celebrating the holidays with Westside Ballet’s rendition of the classic since 1973. Yvonne Mounsey, co-founder of Westside, or the role of Center Spanish at New York City Ballet. This was the full, classical ballet based on the story of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Marius Petipa version. Ms. Mounsey’s daughter, Allegra Clegg, and the owner of Westside School of Ballet, has been a resident of the Palisades for nearly three decades.

The Westside production featured 225 costumes and four elaborately designed scenes, all of which had been updated with new backdrops and accouterments over the years while retaining the most beloved traditional characters and iconic moments, such as a growing Christmas tree, a firing cannon, and snow falling over a stunning corps de ballet.

Palisadian Evie Tontonoz, 11, performed the role of a mouse and as an angel; she bought her first nutcracker at the intermission of a Westside performance when she was four years old, sharing that the dancers’ elaborate costumes were a sight to behold. 

Palisadian Ava Bakhshandehpour (15) performing solo role of the center peppermint candy cane at Westside Ballet’s 10-day Nutcracker run at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Photo: Anne Slattery.

Palisadian Ava Bakhshandehpour, 15, performed a solo as the center peppermint candy cane, in addition to her other roles in the corps de ballet in the difficult Waltz of the Snowflakes, one of two centers in the whimsical Chinese Tea dance, and a charming French Mirliton. “One of the most fun parts about this show is that every year I can bring something new and special to the ballet, as my technique and artistry improve,” says Ava.

Laurel O’Donnell, a student at Palisades Elementary, danced as a Red Soldier. She remarked that one of this year’s more entertaining challenges has been getting the hang of dancing while holding a toy gun.

Guest Principals 
Along with Hungarian born dancer & choreographer Maté Szentes, professional dancers Jack Virga Hall and Evan Swenson performed alongside the Westside Ballet pre-professional performers. 

Szentes performed the lead role of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier. Szentes started training at age 6 and attended the Hungarian Dance Academy as well as North Carolina Dance. After finishing college, he spent three years dancing both corps de ballet and soloist roles with the Hungarian National Ballet. He moved to California in 2012 to dance with the Sacramento Ballet. He is a regular principal dancer with American Contemporary Ballet, Ballet Project OC, and Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet. 

Evan Swenson, who has been a resident guest artist at Westside Ballet for the past decade, performed the lead role of the Cavalier for the Snow Queen and the Arabian pas de deux. Mr. Swenson, a native of central California, was granted a full scholarship to attend the Houston Ballet Academy when he was just 17 years old. Before relocating to New York in 2007, he was a soloist and principal dancer with Atlanta Ballet. 

Swenson alternated with Jack Virga Hall, the third guest principal, the Arabian pas de deux. Mr. Hall is a Los Angeles-based dance instructor who is also certified by the American Ballet Theatre. He is currently on tour with the modern company at Lula Washington Dance Theatre, the contemporary company at Pony Box Dance Theatre, and the classical ballet all-male pointe company at Ballet D’ Hommes.

Community Outreach Preview Performance
On Friday, December 2, Westside Ballet hosted a free preview performance for members of the local community and charitable organizations, including the Santa Monica Police Activities League, Taking the Reins, the Neighborhood Youth Association, Allies for Every Child, Vet Tix, the Venice Family Clinic, Everybody Dance!, A Place called Home, Community Corp of Santa Monica, Virginia Avenue Park, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

Past Productions
Many professional dancers have made their stage debuts in the Westside Ballet of Santa Monica’s Nutcracker over the past five decades, including Monique Meunier (NYCB, ABT); Anna Liceica (ABT); Joy Womack (Bolshoi Ballet, Kremlin Ballet Theater); Martine Harley (Houston Ballet); Melissa Barak (NYCB, Los Angeles Ballet, Barak Ballet); Andrew Veyette and Samuel Melnikov (NYCB).

Among the newest are: Adrian Blake Mitchell (Mikhailovsky Theatre); Shelby Tzung (National Ballet of Canada); Lucia Connolly (Joffrey Ballet); Molly Novak (Semperoper Ballett, Boston Ballet); Severina Wong (Ballet West); Giorgia Martelloni-Zabriskie (Dance Theater of Harlem); Sarah Hurty (Ballet Omaha); and Lyrica Brielle Blankfein Woodruff (Broadway’s Anastasia). 

Sponsors for the Nutcracker
The Nutcracker production was made possible in part by grants from the City of Santa Monica—with past grants from the Rotary Club and a LA County COVID-19 Arts Relief Fund—and from sponsorships from local Santa Monica individuals, businesses, and organizations such as Santa Monica College Public Policy Institute, The Huntley Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Lyft Scooters, Urth Caffe, Morley Builders, and more.

Nutcracker Dancers Receive College Credit for Performing
Under an education initiative launched in 2013, Westside’s dancers who are high school students concurrently enrolled in Santa Monica College dance course 59A will receive credit for the performances. The credits are transferable to any of California’s public four-year colleges and universities. 

###

About Westside Ballet of Santa Monica – One of the nation’s premier pre-professional ballet training companies, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to give promising young dancers the performance opportunities so important to their development––as well as make dance more accessible to local children and families. Westside Ballet of Santa Monica was created by Yvonne Mounsey (New York City Ballet) and Rosemary Valaire (Royal Ballet) in 1973. Westside Alumna Martine Harley (Houston Ballet) took over as Artistic Director in 2013. Based in Santa Monica, California, the company comprises approximately 80 dancers, ages 8 to 18.

The sister entity, Westside School of Ballet, distinguishes itself as a non-audition academy where all are welcome to study ballet and train to the most refined pre-professional level. Nearly all the artistic staff are products of the school, bringing a consistent approach to classical ballet training. Ms. Mounsey and Ms. Valaire opened the school in 1967, six years before the founding of the performance company, and produced many of classical ballet’s luminary performers known worldwide. 

For more information, visit www.westsideballet.com

Related Posts

Marina del Rey Sportfishing: A Great Day on the Water

June 14, 2024

June 14, 2024

Fishing is a pastime like no other. You can experience the nostalgia of that pastime in real time at Marina...

Fatal Altercation Outside Santa Monica Pub Leads to Homicide Charge

June 14, 2024

June 14, 2024

Venice Resident Charged in Death of Jameson’s Pub Manager A man has been charged with homicide following a fatal altercation...

Laurene Powell Jobs Adds Another Malibu Pad to her Paradise Cove Portfolio

June 13, 2024

June 13, 2024

This Acquisition Marks Powell Jobs’ Fourth Property in the Upscale Enclave, Adding to Three Adjacent Parcels She Has Acquired Over...

Former HR Chief of Santa Monica Accuses City of Racial Discrimination

June 13, 2024

June 13, 2024

She Was Selected in 2018 as the First African American to Hold That Position Within City Leadership, According to the...

Juneteenth Art Exhibition Set for Abbot Kinney Boulevard

June 13, 2024

June 13, 2024

The Event Features Works by Twelve Prominent Black Artists From Los Angeles An art exhibition titled “FREEDOM” will open at...

Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger Cut Price on Palisades Home by $6.5M

June 12, 2024

June 12, 2024

The couple purchased the property in June 2018 for $15.6 million and extensively remodeled it While actor Chris Pratt’s box-office...

Hang-Ten Therapeutics-Surf Therapy for Kids: Catching Waves and Finding your Calm

June 12, 2024

June 12, 2024

A different type of therapy is making waves in Los Angeles. Hang-Ten Therapeutics, founded by Naomi Matanick, a licensed pediatric...

Jinky’s Cafe is Returning to Santa Monica

June 12, 2024

June 12, 2024

The Development Comes After Months After the Franchise Closed Its Previous Santa Monica Storefront By Zach Armstrong Several months after The Independence,...

Venice Canal Attack Suspect Appears in Court

June 12, 2024

June 12, 2024

He faces a lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole By Zach Armstrong The man who allegedly raped and...

Lawsuit Filed Over Pacific Palisades Property Foreclosure: Report

June 11, 2024

June 11, 2024

The Dispute Over the Site Dates Back to 2014 The owners of a Pacific Palisades residential site are fighting to...

Shutters on the Beach Brings Beachside Spring Celebrations 

June 11, 2024

June 11, 2024

As spring unfurls with super blooms and sunsets after 7pm along the California coast, Shutters on the Beach emerges as the most...

Hotel Casa Del Mar: The Epicenter of Springtime Diversions

June 11, 2024

June 11, 2024

Hotel Casa Del Mar stands as a beacon of vibrant coastal charm on Santa Monica Beach. Perfectly poised, the hotel’s...

New Digital Art Festival to Launch This Month in Santa Monica

June 10, 2024

June 10, 2024

The New Series Will Take Place Across 24 Events at 17 Different Venues The DNA Festival Santa Monica, a new...

Candlelight Vigil to Be Held for Venice Canal Attack Victim

June 10, 2024

June 10, 2024

Candles Will Be Provided for All to Participate in the Tribute By Zach Armstrong A candlelight vigil for Sarah Alden, the...

Gladstone’s Unveils New Summer Menu and Cocktail Offerings

June 10, 2024

June 10, 2024

This Comes Several Months After the Restaurant’s Staff Joined Forces for a New Type of Ownership The historic beachside restaurant...