The “Nutcracker” Returns to the Westside over Two Weekends

This was a scene from Westside Ballet’s  2021 production of the Nutcracker.
Photo: Todd Lechtick

The longest running “Nutcracker” production in Southern California is returning to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica beginning Thanksgiving weekend for eight public performances.

This is the complete, traditional ballet, from the Victorian-style party scene to the dazzling Sugar Plum Fairy, based on the romanticist E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and the Marius Petipa classic.

Palisadian Evie Tontonoz, 11, who will be mouse/angel in these performances remembers “When I was four, I bought my first nutcracker at the intermission of a Westside performance. I loved seeing all of the dancers in their beautiful costumes.”

The Westside production features more than 85 dancers, 225 costumes, and four lavishly designed scenes that have been updated over the years, but still include a tree that grows, a firing cannon, and falling snow over a stunning corps de ballet.

“The lavish performances, featuring both world-class professional dancers and pre-professional and student performers, are an ideal way to expose children to classical music and dance,” said Judith Meister, producer and Westside Board President.  “The holiday spirit truly leaps to life as audiences are invited to follow Clara and her Nutcracker Prince on a snow-dusted, sugary journey that only Tchaikovsky could have composed.”

Ava Bakhshandehpour      Photo: Daniel Cheswick

Palisadian Ava Bakhshandehpour, 15, who this year will have a solo as candy cane, and also dance as a snowflake, Chinese and a Mirliton, said “One of the most fun parts about this show is that every year I can bring something new and special to the ballet, as my technique and artistry improves.”

Palisades Elementary Student Laurel O’Donnell is participating in her second Nutcracker and will be a Red Solider this year. “Learning to dance with a prop (toy gun) has been a fun new challenge this year,” O’Donnell said.

This has been holiday tradition for all ages since 1973. Westside Ballet’s version of the classic preserves the spirit of choreographer George Balanchine as carried on by Westside’s co-founder Yvonne Mounsey, who pioneered the role of Center Spanish while a New York City Ballet principal dancer.

Students share the stage with professional guest artists and this year there will be three guest principals.

Matt Szentes partners Jasmine Harrison as they rehearse for the Nutcracker.
Photo: Daniel Chiswick

Professional dancer Maté Szentes will perform the principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier. Szentes began training at age 6 and attended the Hungarian Dance Academy and North Carolina Dance. After graduating, he joined the Hungarian National Ballet and danced corps de ballet and soloist parts for three years. In 2012, he went to California and joined the Sacramento Ballet. He’s a permanent guest lead dancer with American Contemporary Ballet, Ballet Project OC, and Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet.

Westside Ballet’s resident guest artist of 10 years, Evan Swenson, will reprise the principal role of the Snow Queen’s Cavalier, as well as the Arabian pas de deux. A native of central California, Mr. Swenson was accepted to the Houston Ballet Academy on full scholarship at age 17. In 2004, he joined Atlanta Ballet where he performed many soloist and principal roles until moving to New York City in 2007.

A third guest principal, Jack Virga Hall, will alternate with Swenson in the Arabian pas de deux. Mr. Hallis is co-director of Ohana Dance and an ABT-certified teacher based out of Los Angeles. He currently tours internationally with Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s modern company, Pony Box Dance Theatre’s contemporary company, and Ballet D’ Hommes, a classical ballet all male pointe company.

Performances are Saturday and Sunday, November 26 and 27, and December 3 and 4, at 1 and 5 p.m. at Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica. Tickets are $50. Visit: or email

Palisadian residents and student dancers prepare for Westside Ballet’s upcoming Nutcracker. 
(Back row, left to right):  Zoya Abyzov, Ava Bakhshandehpour and Evie Tontonoz;                      (Soldiers, left to right) Laurel O’Donnell, Isabel Heidt, and Valentina Finci; and
(Front) Elise DuFour (left) and Addison Russell.                                                                                       Photo: Daniel Chiswick.








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