This “Nutcracker” season, Ballet West soloist Sayaka Ohtaki will perform the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy for a school performance and three professional shows, while dancing with a new partner, Beau Pearson.
The role wasn’t hard to learn but is a stamina challenge, says Ohtaki, 26, who grew up in Tokyo and New York City before joining Ballet West in 2010.
The dancer once was a law student in New York City, but dropped out to chase a professional dance career. “I wanted to live my life with something that I love to do,” she said, which didn’t make her parents particularly happy at the time.
As a young dancer in Japan, she performed in five “really different” versions of the venerable ballet. The difference is that her company would only perform two shows, versus Ballet West’s run of three school shows, plus 24 matinee and evening performances, featuring eight cast combinations. “I wish the audience could come to a couple of shows and enjoy the differences,” she says.
Artistic director Adam Sklute characterizes the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as one of the hardest in the classical ballet repertoire, despite its relatively short length.
“I use this role as a showcase for my leading ballerinas, but also as a testing ground for my up-and-coming stars,” he said. “If a ballerina can sustain and master the challenges of this role, I can seem them moving into other roles in the great ballerina repertoire.”
The dancer has an entrance at the beginning of Act II and later performs what Sklute labels “a killer pas de deux,” followed by a relatively easy finale. “That pas de deux and variation for the woman is so bloody hard — it’s almost as hard as doing a full four-act ‘Swan Lake,’ ” he says. “It requires absolute precision and purity, and there is no hiding behind drama and pathos, but one must constantly present an air of charm and warmth.”
This year, after Ogden and Salt Lake City openings, Ballet West will pack and ship costumes, sets, cast and crew to Washington, D.C., for seven performances Dec. 5-9 at the Kennedy Center. Sklute says the invitation establishes Ballet West as among the world’s leading dance companies. “Let’s pray for good weather, because one ill-timed blizzard could really wreak havoc on our schedule,” he said.
Transportation is only one of the logistical challenges. Preparations for the D.C. run began in early September, when children’s ballet mistress Cati Snar and Sklute conducted children’s auditions. A local ballet mistress has been rehearsing the cast, regularly communicating and sending videos to Snar, who also is overseeing the 276 children in four Utah casts.
Ballet West’s ‘The Nutcracker’
When • Plays Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 13-15, 18-19, 20-22, 26-27, 28-29, 7 p.m.; Dec. 1, 15-16, 21-23, 26, 28-29, at 2 p.m.; and Dec. 24 at noon.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $19-$75 at Capitol Theatre box office, 801-355-ARTS or www.arttix.org.
More • After most matinees, young audience members are invited to onstage Sugar Plum parties with the cast. $5 at 801-355-2787.