A Day in the Life with The Sugar Plum Fairy

behind the sceneSacramento Ballet’s principal dancer Alexandra Cunningham shares how she and The Sacramento Ballet Company dancers prepare for the region’s holiday tradition.

As the orchestra tunes their instruments there is a certain magic in the air. It’s almost opening night of Ron Cunningham’s The Nutcracker and I can hardly contain my excitement! All the memories of performing in this classic holiday production for the past 22nd years come flooding back to me.

From my humble beginnings as a Baby Bunny in the “Battle Scene”, I always knew that one day I wanted to be a professional dancer for The Sacramento Ballet. I would watch the ballerinas in awe as they accomplished their choreography with the confidence and grace that comes with years of experience. Still a youngster, and just starting my ballet training, I couldn’t imagine exactly how they did it — but I knew that I wanted to be just like the dancers on stage.

Now, 22 years later, there I am backstage in my Sugar Plum tutu preparing my pointe shoes and trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach. Yes, even after all these years, and after all the hours of rehearsal, I still get nervous before every show. I know all the choreography inside and out, but the thing about a live performance is that you never know what might happen on stage — and that thrill is one of the many reasons why I love to perform.

This year alone, the Company dancers and I have spent over 200 hours in rehearsal for The Nutcracker. This year’s Nutcracker is certainly not our first rodeo –if you add up all the years each Sacramento Ballet dancer has performed a version of the Nutcracker, we dancers bring audiences a total of 361 years of experience! For many, like myself, The Nutcracker was our first experience on stage and the reason why we eventually pursued a professional ballet career.

theater day
The life of a dancer is one that requires immense dedication, discipline, and vision. We start our workday with a one and a half hour ballet class to improve our ballet technique and build stamina, followed by up to five hours of rehearsal, six days a week. We rehearse our choreography for our Artistic Director or ballet master (equivalent to a coach) who constantly corrects us in an effort to helps us achieve our best possible performance. Over time, we develop tough skin like the calluses around our toes. Dancers are taught to strive for perfection, although we all know that it is unattainable. Our work never ends as there is always a next level to reach.

All the hard work and hours of training however become instantly worth it once we step onto the stage. The Nutcracker is particularly treasured by the dancers as, in our Sacramento version, we work with over 500 children throughout the performances. To see their smiles and genuine joy as they take the stage alongside us reminds us of the reason we pursued our chosen profession in the first place.

The Nutcracker is so much more than just a ballet performance — it’s a holiday tradition that celebrates our community in the most meaningful way. It’s truly a miracle to watch people from all walks of life spend their time and invest their hearts into making The Nutcracker a success. For me, it wouldn’t be the holiday season if I wasn’t backstage preparing to dance The Nutcracker. Now, as I prepare for opening night, I am filled with a special kind of happiness that comes from knowing I am part of a legacy that inspires the spirit of the holiday season for generations.

See The Sacramento Ballet’s hard work throughout the month of December. Ron Cunningham’s The Nutcracker will be performed December 12-22 at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. To learn more, visit its Sacramento365.com event listing here.

This blog post was written by The Sacramento Ballet’s principal dancer, Alexandra Cunningham.


Life Moves: A Celebration for CORE

Looking for something to do this Friday? Then join me at CORE Contemporary Dance’s 3rd Annual Gala, taking place at Beatnik Studios. Why miss out on an evening full of music, dancing, food, libations, and a silent auction where 100 percent of the profits go to support CORE’s performances, master classes, and outreach programs?

Photo courtesy of CORE Contemporary Dance

Photo courtesy of CORE Contemporary Dance

Founded in 2007 by Kelli Leighton and a group of dancers, CORE was established with the desire to do more than just “go through the motions” of choreography. CORE stands for “Collection Of Real Experiences”, and draws from the pain or triumph of the dancers’ real life experiences.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to this event. With every year, my appreciation continues to grow for the arts, and the role the arts community plays for our region’s culture and growth.

So if you’re looking for a lively event on Friday, I hope you will join me at #COREGala2015. CORE’s tagline is “Life Moves”, so embrace the evening and even bust a move on the dance floor. For more details or to purchase your tickets, visit the Sacramento365 event page.

This blog post was written by Sacramento365.com’s Content and Marketing Manager Karlee Cemo.

CORE Explores Our Inner Beauty With ‘barebones’

barebones core dance collective

Photo by Chris Kisela.

“When pretenses and facades are stripped away, we are all the same – we have the same ‘bare bones’.”

As if I needed any encouragement to attend another CORE Contemporary Dance show, Director Kelli Leighton once again presents a theme that I simply cannot miss! The older I get, the more I come to realize that despite how complicated life seems, it really is pretty simple. We are trained to surround ourselves with materialistic, self-serving, unnecessary ‘things’ (objects, people, ideals) that distract us from this very simple fact: we are all made up of the same matter and are all here just trying to live the best we know how. This show explores this fundamental human connection, imploring us all to recognize that our differences lie on the outside and the freedom found in learning to accept this… and move on.

If you are one of those people that aren’t into Dance or Theatre performances, I encourage you to come to one of CORE’s shows. With simple themes that we can all identify with, along with music we all know, the dancers poetically express things through movements that tap into your emotions.

Let me put it this way: Every single show by CORE sells out. Grab a friend (or a few) and try something new.

This show can be seen this Thursday, Friday or Saturday only (March 13-15). For more details or to get your tickets, visit the Sacramento365 event page.

This blog post was written by Sacramento365.com’s Marketing & Development Manager, Rachael Lankford.

The sizzling art of Flamenco dance hits Sacramento

Flamenco dancer Savannah Fuentes. Photo by Tito Fuentes.

Flamenco dancer Savannah Fuentes. Photo by Tito Fuentes.

In an intimate black box theatre in West Sacramento Savannah Fuentes and her musical duo, comprised of Jesus Montoya and Bobby de Sofia, created a night of fast-moving fun on their Girasoles Summer Flamenco Tour. Having never seen Flamenco live it was truly a treat as this artistic trifecta worked so effortlessly off one another, transferring a fantastic energy to the audience and keeping me hooked with every strum of the guitar and move of the feet.

Before the dancing had even begun the audience was treated to a musical introduction courtesy of Montoya and Sofia. The intertwining of Montoya’s strong vocals with Sofia’s beautiful and skillful guitar playing brought out the Flamenco spirit in everyone, especially with the occasional “olé” from Montoya. As Fuentes entered the stage she moved with such grace, making each step artistic. But as the movement picked up I found myself captivated by the quick stamps and kicks of the feet and the fluidity of the arms, the movement of which was an art form in itself. Between the exciting music, the beauty and intensity of Fuentes’ dance, and not to mention the gorgeous and constantly changing outfits of the evening, this night succeeded in showing Flamenco in its true glory.

With simply a singer, a guitarist, and a dancer these three were able to make a night of excitement and showcase the fun and fiery art that is Flamenco dance. Don’t miss out on the next opportunity to see this event. Olé!

Seek respite from your busy life at CORE Dance Collective’s “Frayed Edges”

CORE Dance Collective performs their newest show, "Frayed Edges," through Saturday. Photo by Scott Belding.

CORE Dance Collective performs their newest show, “Frayed Edges,” through Saturday. Photo by Scott Belding.

As I write this I have deadlines looming, emails to be sent, newsletters to be scheduled, my bathroom to be cleaned, grocery shopping to be done, and (don’t forget!) it’s tax season. With all those tasks in mind, I definitely found the overlying theme of CORE Dance Collective’s new performance Frayed Edges relatable.

This dance, choreographed by Kelli Leighton, explores “the feeling of being ‘pulled apart’ by all the demands on our time and energy, to the point where we are losing our sense of self.” Sound familiar?

As someone who tends to jam pack her week with myriad activities and little chance to slow down, I definitely appreciated the time spent relaxing in front of the flowing moves of CORE Dance Collective, taking a break from my otherwise demanding week to unwind.

Frayed Edges is a one-act performance and is followed by Leighton’s 2011 piece, After the Storm (set completely to Mumford & Sons songs) for the second act.

Catch Frayed Edges tonight and tomorrow, 7:30pm, at Benvenuti Performing Arts Center. Tickets are still available, but last night’s performance was sold out, so act quick!

The National Danish Performance Team visits Sacramento

The National Danish Performance Team brings their show, "Zoom," to Memorial Auditorium this Saturday, January 12, 2013. Photo by Ulrik Jantzen.

The National Danish Performance Team brings their show, “Zoom,” to Memorial Auditorium this Saturday, January 12, 2013. Photo by Ulrik Jantzen.

In a world of fast food, smartphones, and massive multiplayer online games, health and fitness tend to sit sadly on the sidelines. Fortunately, there are groups who recognize the importance of keeping our world physically active, and who strive to educate our youth; one such group is the National Danish Performance Team (NDPT).

The NDPT, who will be performing at the Memorial Auditorium this Saturday, is a dance & gymnastics team from Denmark who tour the world every other year to encourage young people to live active, cheerful, and healthy lifestyles.

Learn more about NDPT and their upcoming show in our article on The Sacramento Press.

Enter CORE Dance Collective’s “The Doorway” & be enchanted

CORE Dance Collective's "The Doorway." Photo by Bruce Patt.

A dancer from the “Garden” scene of CORE Dance Collective’s “The Doorway.”
Photo by Bruce Patt.

Although this weekend’s remaining shows are sold out, you need to put CORE Dance Collective’s The Doorway on your radar for its next incarnation. Currently in its third season, The Doorway takes the audience on a tour through an old Victorian house. Set to alternately ethereal and pumping electronic music (think Apparat, Ellen Allien, Bjork, The Presets, etc.), this contemporary dance performance is eerie, elegant, and captivating.

And, the scene is set before you even walk into the theatre. Dancers dressed in costume greet you, silently, at the door. The lobby is decorated with Victorian ephemera — dolls, dresses, decor — creating a sense of intrigue about one is about to experience. Once the show starts, that intrigue only builds, holding you captive until the final curtain falls.

Using simple objects such as doors, chairs, and picture frames as props makes for flowing, engaging scenes that pair well with the fluidity of the dancers’ moves. The colorful, Victorian-era-inspired costuming gives character to the dancers and mirrors their powerful, vibrant movements.

If you’re lucky enough to have tickets for this weekend’s final shows: you’re in for a treat. Be sure to follow CORE Dance Collective on Facebook to keep up with their happenings and be first in line for the next performance of The Doorway.