Topanga Nutcracker: Still Dancing After All These Years

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This year’s Topanga Nutcracker Ballet produced by Sherry and Bob Jason and Ballet for Topanga, marked its 38th year.

It was a wonderful show full of heart and sparkling with the essence of family and community. Clara was played by an alternating cast of Emma Farkas, Daphne Huffman, and Satya Finch. Each of these girls has been in the ballet company for six years and this is their second year as Clara.

Twelve-year-old Satya, who performed on Sunday was all smiles as she danced her part with the effortless grace and flow of a willow tree. Lily Keep shone as a beautiful Snow Queen, looking like a stoic and stunning Russian ballerina. Maude Soper played the Nutcracker Prince with incredible poise and elegance and an unchanging expression reminiscent of a DaVinci Madonna. Nina Lowry gave a very sweet and solid performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Harry Van Gorkum, a London-based theatre actor and Topanga father of daughters Sophie and Poppy, graced the stage with a classic portrayal of Uncle Drosselmeyer.

“I’ve been in many stage performances in my life,” said Van Gorkum. “West End, London Theatre, all that, but to look across the stage and see my two daughters…it’s the best thing in the world”

Joe Grassi played a great Mouse King and a hilarious Mother Ginger for his 25th year running. He got his start in all this when his son was only eight and danced with the Nutcracker until he was a sophomore in high school, at which point, Joe says, “His tights started to get a little too tight!”

Years later, Joe still loves being a part of it. “It’s always such a great time. There’s so much love here. We all love Bob and Sherry and there’s something special about the tradition, how this gets passed on to the next generation, the consistency of it. We’re creating a legacy!”

The Grande Pas de Deux, originally choreographed for two dancers, was expanded by Sherry into the “Pas de Papa,” a showcase for the littlest ballerinas and their fathers.

It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen. The daughters are all about four to seven years old, each dancing pirouettes and twirls with their papas. I can’t imagine I was the only one in the audience who teared up as the papas brimmed with pride and the little girls grinned with excited confidence. As the movement ended with the girls preparing to leap into the waiting arms of their fathers who lifted them high and gracefully carried them off stage with a slow spin, this poignant dance scene harkened back to an age-old archetype that is sadly so little acknowledged in today’s society: how a father’s strength, dependability, and consistency allow his little girl to fly.

Robin Soper and Richard Brody—two of the larger team of “Nutcracker Dads” who make it all possible behind the scenes building and painting beforehand, and moving sets around backstage during the performance—said, “There’s just so much magic in the dancing, seeing all the little girls dressed up and having fun, and giving back to the community. It’s the best!”

On the all-important technical end of the production, one must throw some accolades to technical director Tom Mitchell and his daughter Julia, who did a flawless job on the opening follow-spot  jumping from the Nutcracker Prince (“Yayyy!”) to the evil Mouse King (“Boooo!”), bringing more magic to the already magical performance as snowflakes began to fall, Tchaikovsky’s familiar music began to swell, and everyone was once again transported to the time of the Stahlberg family and the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Sherry Jason, the Grande Dame of the Ballet company, says she loves “the joy of it all. The gift of being able to work with the kids and parents and watch the kids really strive to be the best. It’s a precious time…exhausting but precious!”

After the performance, the three Clara’s eagerly shared what their favorite part of being in the production was and what they wanted to be when they grow up.

Satya Finch said, “Just the joy in dancing, it’s one of my biggest passions. I’ve been a ballerina since I was five.” When she grows up, she wants to be a dancer and a chef.

Daphne Huffman said, “It’s such a nice energy here, it really feels like family.” She wants to travel the world and cheer up children in hospitals when she grows up.

Emma Farkas said she feels that the ballet company is a family she can always come home to. “I know I’ll always have family here. I love it!” She wants to be a doctor or a lawyer or “something that involves helping people.”  

If we’re lucky, these three might team up in future years to be a trio of talent, love, and humanitarian ambition and I’ll get to say I saw them in the Topanga Nutcracker when they were little girls with big dreams.

All in all, it seems that the Topanga Nutcracker Ballet is not just a wintertime ballet performance but a living, thriving organism made up of the community spirit, family ties, passion, and dedication of all the Topanga families who make it possible year after year.

(Editor’s Note: If you can help us correct and/or better caption the photographs we’d be happy to update. Just leave your note in the comments section below.)

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