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How 9 Year-Old LA Dancers Manage to Sell Out the “Nutcracker”

All photos by Todd Lechtick

Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature on Westside Ballet’s Nutcracker.

How 9 Year-Old LA Dancers Manage to Sell Out the “Nutcracker”


We know you’ve probably already been Nutcrackered to oblivion, and it’s only late November! But trust me, the Westside Ballet production stands out from the crowd. The Santa Monica-based school was founded in 1967 by Yvonne Mounsey, a former New York City Ballet soloist under George Balanchine, and Rosemary Valaire, who was a solo dancer with Britian’s Royal Ballet. The school’s Nutcracker tradition began just six years later. What’s so special about it? Firstly, it’s the 46th season, the longest-running Nutcracker in Los Angeles. The music is live; Tchaikovsky’s familiar score is played by the Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra. And though the colorful scenery and costumes are thoroughly professional, the performers run the gamut from 9 year-old mice and soldiers to accomplished professionals and all levels in between.

Company artistic director Martine Harley, a former soloist with the Houston Ballet, played Clara in the Westside Ballet’s Nutcracker at the age of 12. She says nearly 100 Westside students take part in this full-length production of the ballet. And it’s a big treat for both staff and the audience to see the students develop from year to year, transforming from, say, a mouse, to the Dew Drop Fairy.

Santa Monica High School sophomore Zane Tahvildaran Jesswein is one of those former mice, promoted this year to snow cavalier and the highly challenging Spanish pas de deux. He’s part of the growing Westside Ballet School Boys Program, which has expanded from three students to more than 20.

Zane believes the stigma of being a young male ballet dancer is finally diminishing, but he still gets teased. He’s developed both a thick skin and a snappy comeback to bullies: “Why don’t you just come take a ballet class with me? We’ll see how that plays out for you.”

Zane and nearly 100 other students at the Westside School of Ballet leap into their final Nutcracker performances Saturday and Sunday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Better make your plans early for next year. For the fifth year in a row the four performances are sell-outs.

More on classes and performances at the Westside School of Ballet at

Written by:
Gail Eichenthal
Gail Eichenthal
Published on 04.01.2019