A holiday classic

No matter how many times you may have seen it, there's something about a holiday classic such as "The Nutcracker" that draws us back to see it year after year.

Petaluma City Ballet and Petaluma School of Ballet present "The Nutcracker" Dec. 7-9 in Evert B. Person Theater on the Sonoma State University campus, 1801 E. Cotati Ave. in Rohnert Park.

For more than 20 years, Petaluma City Ballet has brought to life this holiday classic with a cast that includes some second-generation members of Petaluma School of Ballet.

"It's a true tradition that just keeps going," said Ann Derby, director of the Petaluma City Ballet.

Petaluma School of Ballet was founded in 1959 by Mary Paula, under whom Derby studied dance. Derby bought the school in 1982 and became director of Petaluma City Ballet in 1985. According to Derby, it's the oldest running dance school in Sonoma County.

This year's production features a cast of 85 dancers ages 7 and up, along with several upper level dancers in the leading roles. Many of the dancers in the lead roles are former Petaluma City Ballet students who have grown up and moved on, but come back to help out each year with "The Nutcracker."

"We have a lot of alumni who come back," said Derby. "They help out with the younger kids and the younger kids really look up to them. We feel it's important that every little one gets a chance to be a part of something so special. It's a lot of work, but we have a lot of help from great parent volunteers."

The cast includes Kathryn Derby as the Sugarplum Fairy, who will be dancing with Derek Sakakura of the Diablo Ballet. In the role of the Snow Queen is Maggie Fields, a junior at Casa Grande High. Also performing are Cassidy Reiff, a sophomore at Sonoma Academy and Justin Vanweet, formerly with North Carolina Dance Theater.

"We have eight men in it this year and a brand new Russian doll dance," said Derby. "It's fabulous."

Derby said that the youngest dancers occupy the roles of gingerbread men or snowflakes, and as they grow and gain more experience, they move into the more difficult parts.

"They audition for roles and move through the ranks," said Derby. "For some of the dancers, such as Kathryn, this is their 22nd &‘Nutckracer.' I think this is Maggie's ninth or 10th. It's a true tradition."

In an effort to make sure that local children have the opportunity to enjoy the tradition of "The Nutcracker," Petaluma City Ballet performs a free show for local schoolchildren on Thursday, Dec. 6. The general public can catch performances of "The Nutcracker Dec. 7-9.

Show times for "The Nutcracker" are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7; 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8; and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9.

Tickets in advance are $24 adult, $12 seniors, students and kids 12 and under.

Tickets at the door are $25 adult, $13 seniors, students and kids 12 and under.

"It's an excellent production and we're very proud of it," added Derby.

For tickets, call the Petaluma School of Ballet at 762-3972 or visit www.petaluma schoolofballet.com.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@argus courier.com)