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Sar makes isle debut in ‘Nutcracker’
BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine leaving everything you know for a country on the other side of the world — a country completely different from yours — to pursue a career in a form of dance you know almost nothing about. Cambodian-born ballet dancer Sokvannara Sar didn’t just imagine it. He did it.
Presented by Ballet Hawaii
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Info: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com
Sar makes his Hawaii stage debut tonight in Ballet Hawaii’s gala production of “The Nutcracker.” Sar — Sy (pronounced “see”) for short — was 16 and had no thoughts of a career in ballet when Anne Bass, an American filmmaker with an interest in dance, noticed him performing with a traditional Khmer dance group at a Cambodian temple in 2000. Bass later contacted Sar through his dance teacher and his parents, and invited him to audition for the School of American Ballet in New York.
He passed the audition and was admitted.
“I came to the States in 2000. That’s a long time already,” Sy said during a midafternoon telephone call last week from his home in North Carolina.
“It was a lot of changes, especially when I first came here, not knowing much about the culture or the language — you don’t know the language, you hate the food here, you miss home — and everything else.”
Aspiring ballet dancers usually start training well before they reach puberty. Sy caught up in part by training privately before he joined the standard program. The additional private lessons continued for two years.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’ve studied Cambodian dance for a few years, I’m gonna be just fine doing ballet.’ I don’t think it works that way. When I started dancing ballet it was from scratch. Even though I was already a performer in Cambodia, (when) I came here I started with the kids. I was the oldest kid in the class — (it was) quite embarrassing, actually. Almost 17 years old and starting ballet so late. There was a lot of pressure, but I think my (private) teacher, Olga (Kostritzky), kicked my butt and made me catch up with the kids at school. My level in class got higher and higher in a short time.”
His experiences were documented by Bass in a feature-length film, “Dancing Across Borders,” that premiered at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival.
He became a soloist with the Carolina Ballet in 2011.
FIRST PRESENTED in Russia in 1892, “The Nutcracker” has been a Christmas season standard in Hawaii for generations.
The story takes place on Christmas Eve in the home of a wealthy family. A party is enlivened by a mysterious man, Herr Drosselmeyer, who entertains the children with life-size mechanical dolls. Drosselmeyer gives the young lady of the house a nutcracker, but her jealous brother breaks it. Drosselmeyer bandages it.
Much later, when everyone else is sleeping, the girl returns to the parlor to retrieve the nutcracker — and when the clock strikes midnight, she is plunged into a marvelous world of fantasy.
The nutcracker leads an army of toy soldiers against an army of mice — then becomes a handsome prince who takes Clara through a snowy, moonlit pine forest to the beautiful Land of Sweets, where she is entertained by dancing delicacies from around the world.
Watch for Sy as one of the magical mechanical dolls in Act 1 and one of the Chinese dancers representing Chinese tea in Act 2.
Ballet Hawaii’s annual production — performed to the live music of the Ballet Hawaii Symphony Orchestra in the Blaisdell Concert Hall — is the biggest and grandest of the several “Nutcracker” shows that are presented here.
The production arrives five weeks earlier than usual this year because “Wicked” will be in the Concert Hall throughout the Christmas season. The timing has made it possible for Ballet Hawaii to assemble an all-star cast of featured performers that includes some of Hawaii’s favorite ballet dancers.
Megan Fairchild, Joaquin De Luz, Andrew Veyette and Sterling Hyltin are principal dancers with the New York City Ballet. Timour Bourtasenkov and Lilyan Vigo Ellis are principal dancers with the Carolina Ballet. Avid surfer John Selya has extensive credits in ballet, on Broadway and in films.
“Nutcracker” fans who caught the show last year will remember Ellis as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Veyette portraying the Snow King in Act 1 and as one of the dramatic Russian dancers in Act 2, Hyltin as the Snow Queen and Dewdrop, Selya as the mechanical toy soldier, and dancer/choreographer Bourtasenkov as the male star of the sensuous Arabian duet.
De Luz and Fairchild starred as the Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Fairy in Ballet Hawaii’s 2010 production, which also included stellar performances by Bourtasenkov, Ellis and Veyette.
With its all-star cast and live orchestra, Ballet Hawaii’s “Nutcracker” is primed to deliver the thrills and fantasy expected from an enduring favorite.