Cultural resources and traditions bring communities together and are often cited as reasons that make living in an area special. We certainly are lucky that one of our most beloved traditions comes every year from a unique arts institution that brings joy to many families.
Patricia Sigurdson, who danced professionally with American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, founded Salt Creek Ballet (SCB) in 1985. As a leading Chicago-area teacher, she trained a group of highly motivated and talented young dancers. She believed that her students would benefit from professional-level performance experience and that the Western suburbs would benefit from and support a quality classically trained dance company. She was correct.
Salt Creek Ballet has performed The Nutcracker every year since 1986. That first year was a one-act version of the holiday classic, which then expanded into the full production the company now performs.
“The community has always been really good to us,” says Executive Director Christina Salerno. “This is a big holiday tradition for families.” She adds that people are always amazed at what a good production it is, but really the performance element was always part of the plan for Salt Creek Ballet, and those who steward the company make sure that this signature event is thoroughly professional and a delight for those who attend.
From its inception, incredible talents with international backgrounds have nurtured SCB. Since 1998, when Patricia retired, Sergey Kozadayev and his wife Zhanna Dubrovskaya have served as Artistic Directors. Trained at the famed Vaganova School in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the Kozadayevs danced for 20 years at the Maly Theatre in Saint Petersburg, performing worldwide in the leading roles of many classical and contemporary ballets. Before coming to Salt Creek Ballet, they spent seven years with the Colorado Ballet. “There was a good foundation here, with good dancers,” Christina says. “They’ve been able to bring everything up a notch,” she adds.
The interesting thing is that they’ve elevated the program while keeping the atmosphere surrounding the dancers relatively calm and nurturing. There is no Black Swan drama and intrigue going on at the practice facility, but rather smiles and the camaraderie that come when people with a common interest gather together in pursuit of excellence.
Being involved with a ballet company is a valuable experience for the young dancers that goes beyond the time they spend in class and onstage. Participation offers awareness of creative professions like set and costume design and career options for those who are more linear thinkers, like arts administration.
Students are able to contribute to the hard work that goes into fundraising. This year, they are working toward new costumes and sets designed by Galina Solovyeva and Simon Pastukh, a world-renowned design team whose most recent triumph is the 2012 design of Firebird for American Ballet Theatre. Board members, Guild members, and supporters of SCB enjoyed a sneak preview of what the production will look like in 2013 or 2014, when the sketches were unveiled at a fundraising gala in October.
Christina assures us that while it is time for an update, new costumes and sets will only enhance The Nutcracker experience that Salt Creek Ballet fans expect. “This is a traditional area, and ours is a traditional Nutcracker.”
Being a cast member of The Nutcracker offers opportunities to participate in community outreach and public relations activities. This year, the troupe will do a demonstration for children at the Addison Center for the Arts. Those in attendance will receive tickets to a performance. Through programs like this, SCB is able to expose those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to experience the artistry and athleticism of ballet.
The dancers also develop the intangible abilities like adapting to change and handling disappointment that are so necessary to successful corporate or entrepreneurial careers.
Perhaps that is why so many Salt Creek Ballet alums remain involved with the company. Christina Salerno is a wonderful example of someone who has really used her Salt Creek Ballet training to carve out an interesting career with many accomplishments. She studied with Salt Creek Ballet under Patricia and performed in SCB’s Nutcracker. After graduating high school early, her particular combination of natural talent and incredible drive led her to study at the school of San Francisco Ballet. She danced as a soloist with the Boston Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London. In 2008, Christina returned to Salt Creek Ballet as Executive Director.
She tells us that many other alumna of The Nutcracker will attend the Sunday, November 25 performance. Along with many other area families, they’ll bring their loved ones, take pictures with the dancers, and experience the beautiful choreography, costumes, and sets, all of which is what Christina says, “makes ballet wonderful—the essence of what the art form is about.”
Salt Creek Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the Hinsdale Central High School Auditorium on Saturday, November 24 at 1 p.m. and Sunday, November 25 at 1 p.m. The Sunday performance will be followed by the Sugar Plum Party, where audience members have a chance to meet cast members, step onto the stage and investigate the wonders of the production, and enjoy delicious food in an enchanted winter wonderland. To purchase tickets, call 630-769-1199 or visit www.saltcreekballet.org.