For many Bakersfield residents, going to see the Civic Dance Center’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” is an annual tradition.
Ann Conrad realized this firsthand when her parents saw that tickets were on sale and weren’t informed by their daughter, who happens to be a director and choreographer for the production.
Conrad has been involved with the show for 32 years, both as a dancer and working behind the scenes, and her daughters have danced in the ballet as well. Now that they are in college, this marks the first year that no family members are performing onstage, so Conrad wasn’t sure if her parents still wanted to attend.
“Yes, of course we’re coming,” Ann’s mom told her. “We always go to ‘The Nutcracker.’”
Civic Dance Center debuted “The Nutcracker” 42 years ago to give students an opportunity to perform in front of an audience. Owner Cindy Trueblood said the production was “more for dancers who were pushing themselves a little farther, the cream of the crop of the dance school back in those days,” with parts available by audition only.
The first year featured 50 dancers. Today, the show stars 169 performers, with participants spanning multiple generations, like the Conrads.
“I actually went away for one year and danced up north in San Francisco and I just knew I wanted to come back because it’s just not the same,” Ann said. “It’s like a family. You grow up and this is part of your family. I also knew that I wanted my kids to be a part of that family, too.
“My last performance (in 2002) was my oldest daughter’s first performance. We went straight from one generation to the next.”
The reactions from kids when they receive their parts and the family traditions of being involved in the show, whether as a performer or volunteer, inspire the team to keep the show going, despite all the work that goes into putting it all together.
For many students at the Civic Dance Center, it is a primary goal to be in “The Nutcracker.”
“Right in the middle of a rehearsal, one of the young boys came up to me and said: ‘Miss Cindy, I just want to tell you thank you so much for casting me. This is the most fun ever,’” Cindy said. Another family recorded a video of their daughter receiving her part. It was her first year getting into “The Nutcracker,” and while the part was a simple one, “it was the biggest thing in the world” for her, Ann said. She was ecstatic, and the whole family was excited.
“When we hear stories like that, it inspires us to keep going,” Cindy said. “Otherwise, we would have given up years ago.”
Fundraising efforts are currently underway to have the Shafter Symphony Orchestra perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic score, a rarity among smaller dance companies nowadays. According to Cindy, somebody did research and found out that there were only 11 “Nutcracker” ballets left in the country that featured a full symphony, excluding big companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, because the costs are too great. Despite the financial hurdle, the Civic Dance Center’s “Nutcracker” production has gone only two years without an orchestra.
“For us, for Bakersfield, to have had that all those years is absolutely incredible,” Cindy said. “The energy coming from the pit, you can’t even describe what it does for the dancers. The sound’s amazing and for the dancers to be able to dance with a live symphony orchestra, you can’t even put a price on that.” ￼