These little ballerinas can’t wait for December.
Soon, they’ll be tiptoeing on stage, twirling to Tchaikovsky and dreaming of sugar plums. As young dancers in Sacramento, “The Nutcracker” must be in their genes. Hundreds of kids take part in the Sacramento Ballet’s performances of that beloved ballet each year.
So, when it came time to find a decorating theme for the 44th annual Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour, organizers decided to embrace another Sacramento holiday tradition with their own ode to “The Nutcracker.” Expecting more than 5,000 patrons, the walking tour will be held Dec. 1-3.
“We thought this is the perfect partnership – the tour and the ballet,” said Charlotte Lazio, one of the tour’s organizers. “These are two beloved Sacramento traditions come together for the first time.”
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This season’s holiday revival of the ballet is extra special, noted Lazio, who has two children in the cast. It marks the final “Nutcracker” for Sacramento Ballet director Ron Cunningham, who has presented this seasonal favorite for 30 years. As part of his Sacramento tradition, 500 children are included in the ensemble, making it what’s believed to be the world’s largest annual “Nutcracker” production.
“What a beautiful collaboration,” added Theresa Sparks, Sacred Heart’s principal, noting the ballet is helping to promote the tour. “We’re bringing together two really different audiences for two Sacramento traditions. What’s really great is we’re bringing all our students, grades first through eighth, to see ‘The Nutcracker,’ too.”
Based on a 201-year-old story by German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, “The Nutcracker” has become an American holiday staple. Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote his ballet in 1892, but it did not become an immediate international hit. The San Francisco ballet gave the first complete United States performance of “The Nutcracker” in 1944; it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the Sugar Plum Fairy’s magic really took hold.
Its story has become timeless: At a Christmas Eve party, Mr. Drosselmeyer the toymaker gives young Clara an enchanted nutcracker. After everyone has gone to bed, the nutcracker becomes a prince, wards off the Mouse King and takes Clara on a fantastical adventure.
During the Sacred Heart tour, the East Sacramento home of Todd and Stephanie Mirell will bring “The Nutcracker” to life in a different way. Their silver gray kitchen will be a pink-frosted Land of Sweets. The Mouse King and Nutcracker prince will duel with silver sabers on top of the dining room table. Meanwhile, holiday revelers – including little Clara and other characters from the ballet – will fill the living room with Victorian-style Christmas cheer. With props borrowed from the ballet company, the little ballerinas will act as tour guides and helpers.
For the Mirells, the “Nutcracker” theme was perfect for their home tour debut. Third-grader Madison, the Mirells’ oldest of three children, will be among the many young dancers on stage during “The Nutcracker” performances at the Community Center Theater. (She’s a street urchin in the opening prologue.)
Attracting large crowds, the Sacred Heart tour has become an important part of East Sacramento’s holiday season and identity, say its participants. Besides the Nutcracker house, the five other homes on the tour showcase Christmas, California style, with a distinctly East Sac twist.
“I love the small town feel (of East Sacramento),” Stephanie Mirell said. “Everybody knows everybody. You feel a sense of community here. The tour helps bring everybody together.”
For the tour’s “Nutcracker” house, designer Elizabeth Lake has been busy making tutus – or rather, a giant tutu-like skirt for the kitchen counter. She hand-tied 7,000 feet of pink tulle into a massive fabric cloud that rings the granite countertop.
“It took 40 hours to do,” Lake said as she tied on more tulle bows. “But it was totally worth it.”
The pink and silver theme fills the kitchen with frosted packages and gleaming goblets. Even the Nutcracker is decked out in pastels as he lords over the Land of Sweets and offers visitors candy and cake.
For Lake, the Sacred Heart tour is personal.
“First of all, this is the start of the holiday season for so many people in Sacramento,” said Lake, who is working on her third tour. “As a child, I went on the tour with my mom; that’s how we got into the holiday spirit.”
Lake jumped at the chance to do a “Nutcracker” house. “My very first thought? How fun will that be!” she recalled. “It totally made sense, and we’ve never had a Nutcracker house on the tour before.”
Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour
Where: Six homes in East Sacramento; start at Sacred Heart Parish School, 856 39th St., Sacramento.
When: Noon-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 2; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 3
Admission: $30 (before Dec. 1); $35 tour days
Also: Holiday boutique and cafe at Sacred Heart Parish School open free to public during tour hours.