The Men and Boys of the Nutcracker

by Karin K. Jensen - Alameda Sun

December 11, 2008 - Some consider ballet a feminine art, but don't tell Alameda middle-schoolers Cameron Beene, Colin Brady and Harrison Royster. During this recent soccer season, the trio could be found practicing with Alameda Soccer League's Red Star team, where they went on to win their league championship. The winter months, however, are now reserved for Alameda Civic Ballet (ACB), as they rehearse their roles for ACB's upcoming production of The Nutcracker. Beene will star as the Nutcracker Prince, and Brady and Royster will dance the roles of Captains of the Soldiers. As far as they are concerned, dancers are athletes as well as artists.

"I like ballet because it is smooth and flowing," says Beene. "I like the way you can express what you feel in the way you move. The people involved are usually very nice, and then there's the challenge of the combinations and working with a partner."

And how does ballet compare to soccer? "I like soccer for many of the same reasons that I like ballet," Beene says. "It's challenging and fun. And I also enjoy the teamwork and individuality in both."

ACB was founded in 2003 by Abra Rudisill, formerly a principal dancer and rehearsal director for Oakland Ballet for most of her career. This will be ACB's fourth year presenting The Nutcracker before nearly sold-out audiences.

By combining both young and more experienced dancers with world-class professionals from San Francisco's Lines Ballet Company and San Francisco Opera Ballet, ACB provides both inspiration and performing opportunities to young dancers, while providing high quality, affordable performances to the community.

Casey Studebaker (5) is one of ACB's young dancers. He will perform as a Little Mouse. His father, Michael Studebaker, says Casey watched a video of The Nutcracker at 18 months old and loved the music. Now he spends Saturday morning in class where he chasses, sautes and jetes with great gusto and the occasional whoop. In the afternoon, he rehearses his Mouse role. His father says, "He loves animals and improvising, so playing a Little Mouse is perfect for him."

And then there are professionals such as Daniel Escudero who started dancing at the Alameda School of Dance at age 7. After various summer intensives throughout the US and Canada, Escudero decided that what he wanted most was to be a professional dancer. So at age 12, he joined San Francisco Ballet School and went on to the School of American Ballet in New York. During his professional career, he has danced with numerous companies including San Francisco Ballet. For The Nutcracker, he is dancing the role of the Snow King. "It's an extraordinary feeling to be a part of something so close to home again," he says. "Alameda has grown so much since I was a child, and so has Alameda Civic Ballet."

David Henry, cast as the magical Uncle Drosselmeyer and one of ACB's rehearsal masters, is a professional whose long career has touched many parts of the dance world, from folk and ballroom dancing to modern dance and ballet. "I started to dance in college and just fell in love with it. My passion just carried me, and soon I was being paid to perform. What could be better than being paid to do what I loved?"

Sven Jensen is an Alameda dad whose daughter, Avril, performs as a Little Mouse. A recreational ballroom dancer, he was invited to perform as a Party Scene Guest. "I started dancing to meet women, and that's how I met my wife," he says. "But once I became involved, I found that I enjoyed dancing for its own sake. Now I really love getting to appear on stage with my daughter."

These are just a few of the Alameda dads, teens, boys and professionals who appear in Alameda Civic Ballet's The Nutcracker. This year's production takes place at Alameda's Kofman Theater on Saturday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 21, at 2 p.m.

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