Sometimes you have to pull out all the stops – and this season, the El Paso Ballet Theatre is doing just that with its production of “The Nutcracker.”

For the first time in years, a symphony orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s classic music live alongside the 11-year-old ballet company.

“To have some of the region’s finest ballet dancers and best of the best musicians in one performance makes this a very special year,” said Marta Katz, El Paso Ballet Theatre founder and director. “Our ‘Nutcracker’ will be this season’s perfect cultural outing.”

The production is scheduled for Dec. 6-8 at the newly renovated Magoffin Theatre at the University of Texas at El Paso.

New orchestra

Guillermo Quezada, a leader in music circles on both sides of the border, selected 46 top musicians from El Paso, Las Cruces and Juárez for the new Ballet Theatre International Orchestra.

“I watched him conduct the ‘Nutcracker’ in Juárez last year and the music was outstanding,” Katz said. 

Over the years, Quezada has been a principal violist with orchestras in each city. 

He conducts the Orquestra Sinfónica of the Universidad de Ciudad Juárez and teaches viola at the El Paso Conservatory of Music. He earned a bachelor’s in music education and a master’s in viola performance from UTEP.

“Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ is not an easy score to perform,” Katz said. “It will be a great chance for our dancers to experience the rhythms of a live orchestra.” 

Big cast

This season started with an unprecedented turnout for auditions, and some 90 local students and adults were selected. Two Cuba-born guest artists from Florida will join them as the Nutcracker and Cavalier Prince.

More than 150 costumes had to be sewn from scratch or tailored to fit the cast, which runs from 7-year-old mice to parents at the Christmas Eve party.

For the first time, a fog machine will add extra magic, making the little angels look as if they were dancing on clouds.

This year’s Clara, one of classical ballet’s most coveted roles for girls, will be Claire Ancell, 12-year-old daughter of Michael Ancell and Chantal Crews. Claire, who has been taking ballet classes for six years, worked her way up to Clara, after being a mouse, a soldier doll and a Chinese dancer. 

“To watch ‘The Nutcracker’ and be able to soak in the music is very special,” she said. “We hope people will appreciate the hard work we put in to make the production great for the audience.”

Claire remembers very well the first time she saw “The Nutcracker” – it was on television with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her favorite part was the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Leslie Lopez, a longtime ballet theater member and popular ballet instructor, will again assume that role this weekend.

School programs

Educational outreach is a key part of the organization’s mission.

“We’re exposing children to the arts to inspire them and ignite that spark,” Katz said.

Some 4,500 students from four school districts, private schools and home school groups will fill the four school-day performances of “The Nutcracker.”

Each year, the organization sends lesson plans to help teachers prepare their kids for the show. 

“It’s a fabulous story line, spectacular music, and a theatrical experience with dancers their own ages who they can relate to,” she added.

“They especially like the Mother Ginger scene with children coming out of her hoop skirt.”