Photo courtesy Laura Marie Rivera: Young ballet dancers perform in one of the dance scenes of ‘The Nutcracker’ Ballet’at Kerry Park in Queen Anne while Laura Marie Rivera (not pictured) records and gives direction. Rivera, who was a ballerina growing up and performed in the Sacramento Ballet Company’s production of ‘The Nutcracker,’ was sad her 5-year-old twins wouldn’t get to enjoy any holiday activities in kindergarten and decided to create her own version with children from their circle of friends and mom’s group. The recording will be available to watch for free Saturday evening on Youtube.
Photo courtesy Laura Marie Rivera: Young ballet dancers perform in one of the dance scenes of ‘The Nutcracker’ Ballet’at Kerry Park in Queen Anne while Laura Marie Rivera (not pictured) records and gives direction. Rivera, who was a ballerina growing up and performed in the Sacramento Ballet Company’s production of ‘The Nutcracker,’ was sad her 5-year-old twins wouldn’t get to enjoy any holiday activities in kindergarten and decided to create her own version with children from their circle of friends and mom’s group. The recording will be available to watch for free Saturday evening on Youtube.

Before this fall, Queen Anne resident Laura Marie Rivera had never directed small children in a version of “The Nutcracker” that she also casted, choreographed and produced, from recording to editing.

And if someone had told her she would create even an abbreviated version in the middle pandemic, Rivera said she never would have believed them. And yet, Rivera would have been wrong.

This Saturday will mark the culmination of two months of work when friends and family gather in front of their respective devices to watch Rivera’s 20 to 25-minute magnum opus via Youtube.

“I think for kids 5 and under, it’s a pretty standout piece of work,” Rivera said.

Rivera said she decided to tackle the annual ballet because she was sad her 5-year-old twins would miss out on all the fun holiday activities her older children got to do in kindergarten, from pageants, to concerts, to parties, because of COVID-19.

“Of course, these guys are in online school,” Rivera said. “They’re in Coe [Elementary]. They have a fantastic teacher and are learning a lot, and she’s done amazing things with them, but she just can’t do all those other things.”

And with a background in ballet and familiarity with the “The Nutcracker,” Rivera decided to create a young-child’s version of the holiday classic to replace missed school activities.

“I grew up in the Sacramento Ballet Company, and a million years ago, I played Clara,” Rivera said.

Of course, this version is not exactly like the ballet she grew up performing.

Her cast of 25 children is comprised of predominantly 5-year-olds, including her twins, and a few older and younger siblings,   from their circle of friends and mom group.

“Some of them we’ve taken ballet classes with, and some of them have never danced before and some of them I think they’d like to, and maybe they will,” Rivera said.

She also had far less time to put this production together than professional ballet companies take. Rivera said inspiration struck around Halloween and following some online ballet classes a few rehearsals, she started filming the different scenes right before Thanksgiving.

The production also has practical differences, as well. Not only have the number of scenes been reduced to keep the ballet fairly short, ideal for all children to watch, some of the traditionally larger ones, such as Drosselmeyer’s party, feature only a few children. Only two scenes take place inside, whereas the rest were filmed outdoors at parks or in a neighbor’s decorated carport.

Practices and rehearsals were also a far cry from the ones she was used to growing up, Rivera joked. Trying to coach and direct while wearing a mask was a challenge, she said, and outdoor rehearsals featured coats and masks on top of costumes, and sometimes the children got closer to each other than they were supposed.

“Then I would start filming and then a lot of times their creativity took over, and we got a little bit of what I was wanting and a lot of what they wanted to show me,” Rivera said.

But even with their exuberance and ad-libbing, Rivera said, during the editing process, when she cut out her voice and added music, the final product her merry band of performers came up with actually looked like dancing, which makes her smile.

And, while this production was adjusted to meet logistical and COVID-19 practicalities, Rivera said she tried to hit all the high points of the regular ballet.

“You know, it’s about the familiarity of it,” she said. “Getting the kids to know it and love it was kind of the goal.”

Rivera admits she had to let go any expectation of perfection early in the process, but that was never really the point, anyway.

“I wanted the kids to have fun and have a really great memory of this,” she said. “I want them to be their best, but more than that, the goal is holiday cheer and memories for them.”

While Rivera hesitates to say she would never do it again, she does not think a post-pandemic production of The Nutcracker with her children and their friends is in her future plans.

“Well, I would hope that they are in school and doing all of the normal, adorable things,” she said. “I would be happy to just sit in the audience and enjoy their cuteness and hard work.”

Rivera said, if just this year, it was important to carry on a tradition with her children that meant so much to her, and she was happy she took it on, despite the hard work.

“I have so many fond memories of ‘The Nutcracker,’ and it was every year when I was a kid,” she said. “It was a professional company, and it’s very much the holidays for me. I wanted to do something fun. I wanted to give them that same holiday tradition. They are just so cute.”

Rivera said, with final edits and last-minute details taking place this week, the production is planned to air at 6 p.m. Saturday on Youtube. The recording will be left up afterward, however, and anyone can watch by going to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7-75p63-TwbANcacRflLng?view_as=subscriber.