ANDREA PLATE WRITES – It was Christmas Eve, the final performance of a three-week “Nutcracker Ballet” series at the University of California, Irvine’s Barclay Theater.
“Are there, like, a ton of Asians around, or is it my imagination?” someone in the crowd mumbled to his friend.
But of course! How the O.C. has changed! We native Californians remember it as the land of: Richard Nixon. Right-wing Barry Goldwater voters. Rich-white kids, immortalized in a Fox TV show.
No more! Certainly not Irvine, that 66-square mile, master-planned OC mecca with a population that’s more than 44.5 per cent Asian.
Put aside, if you will, the usual stunning sights and sounds of any “Nutcracker” performance—the dazzling dancers, the dramatic musical score, the creative costumes (here, a red-jacketed Mouse King, there a sparkling white Snow Queen, a blush pink Sugar Plum fairy). This performance symbolized a grand cultural leap for the steady and diverse surge of Asians (Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Koreans) that have flocked there since the 1960s. (Among larger metropolitan areas, only Honolulu boasts more Asians).
What a glorious holiday sight! In the lobby, Asian families toted and doted on their toddlers in training for ballet school (or burgeoning ballet fans, at the very least!). There they were, lost in the wonder of tables topped with a seemingly endless glittering array of toys (dolls, wooden soldiers, Christmas tree ornaments, and, yes, nutcrackers)—what kid, Caucasian, Asian, whatever … wouldn’t lobby their parents to buy?
You could see it on the stage, of course, where an impressively international mix of dance stars strutted their stuff, albeit delicately—the Filipino-born Jestoni Dagdag as the Mouse King; Irvine native Lex Ishimoto as the harlequin; and Filipino-American Jeraldine Mendoza, that brightest of stars, that sweetest of Sugar Plum Fairies, brought to this Southern California stage courtesy of San Francisco’s Joffrey Ballet (Born in San Francisco, she was trained by Moscow’s famed Bolshoi Ballet). Of note, two regular company dancers were born in Ukraine, one in Kazakhstan.
Salwa Rizkall, the Festival Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director, has been on a mission since founding the company in 1988. A one-time prima ballerina trained by the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets, she surely appreciates internationalism in the arts. As the Barclay Theater describes its mission: We “specialize in presenting programs and providing facilities to groups reflecting the area’s increasingly diverse populations whose heritage may be Chinese, Korean, middle-Eastern, Hispanic, and Asian Indian among many others.” In addition, the lovely, modern Barclay Theatre serves the community through educational outreach programs in the form of school performances, lecture-demonstrations and, in partnership with the Orange County Public Library, producing the bi-annual Adventures in Writing Short Story Contest for young authors.
It was 1892 when the great Russian composer, Pyotir Ilyich Tchaikovsy, wrote the legendary “Nutcracker” score to accompany E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 novella “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” 125 years have passed. Clearly, this ballet, in any form, will endure. But this recent production was a new variation on an old theme, and it was spectacular.
MENDOZA ON THE COVER OF ‘DANCE’ MAGAZINE
Asia Media senior adviser Andrea Plate, born in the San Fernando Valley, studied ballet as a child at famed choreographer/dancer Eugene Loring’s School of American Dance in Hollywood.