Westside Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ Features Palisadian Dancers

By Lila Seidman 
Special to the Palisades News

It’s not easy being a fairy, an enchanted prince or even a snowflake or piece of candy at the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica.

Flying, leaping, gliding, glittering, fighting — all while maintaining grace and technical form on tippy toes — takes innumerable hours to perfect.

That’s why Palisadian and principal ballerina Mirabelle Weinbach, who will dance the coveted role of Sugar Plum Fairy in the company’s November 25-December 3 staging of “Nutcracker,” often spends her lunch break at the library catching up on homework.

Six days a week, the Brentwood High School sophomore spends more than three hours a day at Westside learning, practicing and rehearsing. That’s in addition to Pilates and Gyrotonic classes she takes to stay fit and “conditioned.”

Palisades resident Mirabelle Wienbach, partnered with Evan Swenson, dances the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“I’ve definitely learned discipline and time management,” Weinbach, an El Medio resident, said at a recent rehearsal. “You get home from ballet at 8 o’clock and then you have to go and do all your homework, so I’ve become pretty good at being efficient and focused.”

The company has been prepping since late August for its eight-performance run of the holiday classic set to begin this Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. 

Now in its 45th season, the non-profit organization said it has the longest running “Nutcracker” production in Los Angeles and one of the few that performs with a live orchestra.

Westside’s production is a homage to the classic “Nutcracker,” first danced in 19th-century Russia to composer Tchaikovsky’s score: young Clara and a magical Nutcracker battle a Mouse King and encounter dancing snowflakes before embarking on a whimsical journey to the Kingdom of Sweets.

Weinbach herself saw the production at Westside as a very young girl and, according to her mother, reacted strongly, dancing in her seat and bouncing along to the music. Shortly after, the 5-year-old enrolled in classes at the school.

Caption: Stefan Goy and Zane Jesswein practice for the Nutcracker

Including Weinbach, this year’s production features 20 Palisades residents or Palisades-based students dancing out of a total of 80 students.

Palisadian sisters Emilia (“Milly”) Davies and Sofia Davies, both dancing in the “Nutcracker,” represent a second and third generation of Westside dancers, respectively. (Their older sister Bella, now at University of Oregon, also came up through the school.)

This year, Sofia, a cherubic seventh grader at Paul Revere Middle School, is taking on the prominent role of Clara — the same role her big sister Milly played in 2012.

Milly, a senior at Palisades Charter High School, said that she hopes that just as she’s progressed to more demanding roles, including the Arabian and Dew Drop Fairy in this year’s “Nutcracker,” Sofia will too.

“The show’s next week so I’ll definitely be there cheering her on, standing on the sides, helping her with her quick changes,” Milly said. “I’m her biggest fan.”

Echoing Weinbach, Milly said that her commitment to dance means a more compressed schedule — and many late nights hunched over textbooks.

But there are plenty of bright sides to complement the sacrifices. Millie, Weinbach and fellow PaliHi senior Anna Davtyan are all close friends.

“On top of the joy and the rewarding sense you get from dancing, it’s super cool to be able to spend so much time with your best friends doing what you love,” Millie said.

Westside’s spokesperson Jewels Solheim-Roe noted that the company has seen an increase in male dancers in recent years, including PaliHi sophomore Stefan Goy.

This year, Goy will be playing one of the central male roles, Nutcracker Prince. Because of the bulky costume he has to don for the part, he said he’s been learning how to dance without overheating and staying in position with the large headpiece and heavy costume.

Goy said the progressive nature of L.A. and PaliHi means he hasn’t experienced any stigma for his hobby, though he notes “not a lot of guys dance.”

In fact, he thinks dancing may help his college admissions chances, explaining, “A lot of colleges look at that and say, How many guys do you come across who do ballet and have a reasonable GPA?”

Show dates and times are November 25-26 at 1 and 5 p.m. and December 2-3 at 1 and 5 p.m. International ballet star and Westside alumna Joy Womack will be performing half of the engagements as Sugar Plum Fairy.

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