After a period of forced hiatus due to the pandemic, Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre will grace the stage of the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University with Joys of the Season on December 10th at 8PM and 11th at 2:30PM. Led by Artistic Director and Choreographer Natasha Middleton, Joys of the Season will feature excerpts from The Nutcracker, Les Patineurs, and The Little Match Girl. Tickets are on sale now.
Based in Burbank, California, Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre (PBDT) was first founded in 1954 by Andrei Tremaine, Middleton’s father, as Ballet Pacific Theatre. Middleton performed with the company from the age of 15 into her early twenties before performing in Europe and China. Soon after returning to California her performing career was put on hold for several years following a near fatal car accident. Thankfully, Middleton recovered and because she also has a beautiful singing voice, went on to perform in musical theater, jazz, pop/rock, and choreographed videos for Chick Corea and Bette Midler to name a few. Her choreography seen in the movie “Love Hurts” with Carrie Anne Moss, as well as television sitcoms and videos.
Realizing that she wanted to direct and choreograph, Middleton decided to take over her father’s company in 2001 to continue his legacy. She talked about how difficult it was as a woman to take over her father’s position as Artistic Director and Choreographer, sensing that she had to prove that she was capable of the position. “It was really hard because when you look at it, it is still a man’s world – You can kick me hard, but I’m not going down,” She added.
I recently met Middleton for the first time on Zoom for an interview and after discussing the difficulties of the world returning to normal and dancers getting back in shape following the pandemic, we began discussing PBDT’s upcoming performance as well as her very talented family’s background.
Middleton had hoped to “kick-start” her company with her production of Carmen, but while building a relationship with Pepperdine University, she was approached about PBDT performing at the Smothers Theatre in December. Although she knew that this was a very short time to get the company members back in performance shape, Middleton agreed to the dates. She realized, too, that it was not enough time to produce the entire The Nutcracker Ballet, deciding instead to give the audiences at Pepperdine an idea of the different types of dances that they have in their repertoire. This was her reasoning behind presenting excerpts from The Nutcracker, Frederick Aston’s Les Patineurs, and her own work The Little Match Girl. Although based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Little Match Girl,” Middleton set her version in England around the time of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”
PBDT will perform five sections of Les Patineurs: “4 Couples” performed by Annya Redfern, Alejandro Monroy, Meagan Van Daren, Zach Padlo, Shalynne Armstrong, Aramis Hermes, Aida Tonoyan, and Patrick Fitzsimmons; “Girls in Blue” performed by Damara Titmus and Elan Alekzander; “Girls in Red” danced by Arisa Tanihata and Kozue Kasahara; “The Lovers” performed by Máire New and Matthew and Matthew Schroeder; and “The Boy in Blue” danced by Eduard Sargsyan.
The Little Match Girl opens with interaction by Leah Abraham (Little Girl) and Allan McCormick (her father Jed) as he counts her matches, only to take her money and race into the local pub to see his girlfriend Josie (Cricket Wampler) – “There’s a big pub scene that I do to bring out the old English feeling with people getting crazy and wild,” Middleton said. “To show a different side of us. I wanted to let people see what we are, a very versatile type of company.”
I asked how she selected the sections for The Nutcracker. “I grew up with that show, being the daughter of the ballet father. I was actually born during rehearsals of The Nutcracker. I was scheduled to be born in January, but I tease my parents and say that “I had to get out so that I could learn the ballet!”
“It was almost easy. I didn’t go with the children except in the Mother Ginger dance. I didn’t go with mice and that whole scene,” she continued. “I took it from Drosselmyer introducing to us and the story the Nutcracker doll, and then it turns into Clara coming downstairs looking for her doll, and the whole segue of his taking the doll away, the doll becoming life-size, then he is the Prince, and BOOM right into Snow scene.” Middleton added that there would be a short opening with Clara arriving into the Land of Sweets that includes several variations. She will not be presenting the Grand Pas but there will be the Sugar Plum Variation, the Arabian, the Chinese, the Russians, Punchinella’s, and the Waltz of the Flowers. Middleton chose the more entertaining sections because she felt that was what people needed right now coming out of two plus years of Covid restrictions.
The two-act ballet, The Nutcracker was first choreographed in 1892 by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and over the years there have been many re-stagings by numerous choreographers. I asked Middleton if she choreographed this version.
“I did,” she answered. “It has a lot of influence of my father’s choreography there too.” She added that because of the music, her favorite section is the Snow scene. “Especially after Covid, people don’t want to just sit; they want to be entertained. They are so used to watching television or on the computer, it’s their mindset. You have to keep going. We’re all dealing with a very different way of life now.”
Joys of the Season will involve multimedia rather than incorporating huge sets onstage. “I’m working with backdrops in the first part of the show,” Middleton explained. “And a projection in The Little Match Girl. I’m also bringing in film projections with The Nutcracker.” She mentioned using film projections especially with the iconic growing of the Christmas tree and snowflakes falling. “I like working with projection and I like film.”
Local ballet companies often hire guest artists to perform in The Nutcracker. Middleton said that most were company members, but a few were new. Elan Alexander is guesting from Anaheim Ballet and Kozue Kasahara is guesting from the Lula Washington Dance Theater. Máire Elizabeth New was dancing in Russia but relocated here because of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
“I’m forming a lot of new people into the company,” Middleton explained, “as a tester to see how this is going to work for next year when I’ll be bringing back Carmen. One of my ballerinas, Victoria Aletta, is from Italy but lives here now, traveling back and forth between LA and Boston Ballet.”
Middleton comes from a long line of artists; her grandmother was a dancer with the Ballet Russes. Now in their 90s, her father, Andrei Tremain was a dancer, choreographer and teacher, and her mother Natalie Garrotto is a former San Francisco Opera Soprano who won the San Francisco Opera auditions at age 18, performed with that company for a while before going on to perform in “What Makes Sammy Run?” with Frank Gorshin. Her father, Andrei Tremaine, is one of the last living members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, making him a living icon. Her late aunt, Yvonne de Carlo, was a star of television and film, remembered most for her television role of the vampire wife Lily on “The Munsters.” Middleton’s two brothers are musicians. With all these artistic genes coming together, Middleton has also become a filmmaker and director. In 2020, and in 2021 her dance film short called “Dissension Within” starring Chelsea Paige-Johnston won Best Dance Film Short in Germany, Japan and Los Angeles, and featured in the Burbank International Film Festival at the AMC Theatre.
“Dissension Within” is subtitled A Dancer’s Rivalry but the competition takes place within herself. Although the trailer’s music has a very percussive score, the film is set to the tango music by Astor Piazzolla – Libertango & Ontono Porteno. The choreography is by Natasha Middleton, the Director of Photography is Jose Hernández of Graty One Media and the Film Editors are Francisco Raposo and Natasha Middleton. Chelsea Paige-Johnston is currently dancing with The Israel Ballet in Tel Aviv.
PBDT attracts very talented dancers from around the world and boasts a large and varied repertoire that always presents high quality entertainment. I inquired about her future plans for herself and PBDT and Middleton said that she hopes to make another film, but really wants to get the company back on the touring circuit. PBDT will be performing on Christmas Eve in The Music Center’s “L.A. County Celebration” and at the Alex Theatre in Glendale in May.
To watch the trailer of “Dissension Within”, Please click HERE.
WHAT: Joys of the Seasons
WHO: Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre
WHEN: Saturday, December 11, 2022 at 8:00 PM & Sunday, December 12, 2022 at 2:30 PM
WHERE: Smothers Theatre located in the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts at Pepperdine University, 24255 E. Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA. 90263.
TICKETS: To purchase tickets, please click HERE or visit the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre website.
Tickets also available at: Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts at Pepperdine University Box Office 310.506.4522
Hours:* Tuesday–Friday, Noon‑5 PM
*open two hours prior to most performances
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Snow King and Queen – The Nutcracker – Dancers: Eduard Sargsyan and Victoria Aletta – Photo by Cheryl Mann