VACAVILLE — Dozens of dancers fit a very big ballet into a very small space while rehearsing at the Vacaville Ballet Theater Academy.
The adult dancers tied pointe shoes tightly and coated them in rosin. The younger dancers threw on their ballet slippers, gelled their hair in a perfect bun and whispered and giggled as they waited for their turn to dance.
Heidi LuMaye, artistic director and co-founder of the Vacaville Ballet, stood in the middle of the rehearsal space to rein in their attention. It was time to practice for Cast B.
This time of year, “The Nutcracker” is as ubiquitous in the ballet world as Santa Claus is in department stores.
In the 17 years LuMaye has been with the company, she’s tried to spice up their winter repertoire as much as possible. Every three years, the company rotates among three productions: “The Nutcracker Suite,” “Clara’s Gift” and “A Christmas Carol.”
“I like people to come every season and find different things they like about ballet,” she said.
Even the company’s rendition of “The Nutcracker Suite” has a twist. Act II, set in the land of sweets, is actually Clara’s dream word, LuMaye said. In her dream world, people in her real life portray some of the more famous characters such as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Queen Rat.
“This puts more story behind it,” she said.
All things considered, “The Nutcracker Suite” is the most traditional of this season’s productions.
It’s also one of the most classic and beloved, and for LuMaye, it’s a fitting way to end the Christmas season. After 17 years with the Vacaville Ballet Theater, LuMaye will step down. “The Nutcracker Suite” will be her last show with the Vacaville Ballet Academy.
Assistant to the director and ballet instructor Cassandra Kamakeeaina will take LuMaye’s place next year as artistic director.
Though LuMaye said she is sad about leaving, she didn’t let her looming departure overshadow her production. There wasn’t any time to do so.
Just days before the opening performance, LuMaye brought all 102 cast members together for a run-through. Among the chaos of full-cast rehearsals, LuMaye blocked it all out to fix what she could.
She wasn’t necessarily looking at the dancers’ extension or perfectly pointed toes. Technique wasn’t as much of an issue after more than four months of practicing. In addition to gorgeous grand jeté, pirouettes and turnout, LuMaye wanted them emote through their characters.
“We’re mainly getting them to project a character,” she said. “If you were in this situation, who would you be?”
LuMaye said she is mostly concerned that her dancers feel as prepared and comfortable as they can. This is one of the last times she’ll get to work with them, she said.
“I’ll be saying a lot of goodbyes at Sunday matinée after 17 years,” she said. “It’s been nice. I got to see a lot of great dance members.”
The Vacaville Ballet Theater Academy’s production of “The Nutcracker Suite” opens at 7 p.m. Friday at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theater, 1010 Ulatis Drive. There will be performances at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, and the production will close with its final performance at 1 p.m. Sunday.
To purchase tickets visit www.vpat.net/tickets.htm.
Reach Heather Ah San at 427-6977 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HeatherMalia.