Enjoy ‘The Nutcracker,’ a perennial holiday favorite, at Big Bear PAC

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Moonridge School of Dance The Nutcracker

A highlight of the 2017 Big Bear Valley holiday season will be the Moonridge School of Dance production of “The Nutcracker” ballet with its famous score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. During this holiday tradition, the pageantry and pomp of this beautiful ballet will feature the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara, the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King gracing the boards of the Big Bear Performing Arts Center. There will be two performances only: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 17 at 2:30 p.m. The PAC is at 39707 Big Bear Boulevard. Tickets are now available at the studio, 42180 Moonridge Road, call (909) 866-2244 for information, at the PAC ticket window or online at www.citybigbearlake.com.

Studio director Maria Knisley said that just about every studio student and many of their parents will grace the stage during this production.

The libretto for the ballet comes from “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a story written in 1816 by German author E. T. A. Hoffmann, in which young Marie Stahlbaum’s favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls. In 1892, Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned Alexandre Dumas père’s adaptation of the story into the ballet, “The Nutcracker,” which has become, perhaps, the most popular ballet in the world.

This is the major production of 2017 for the Moonridge School of Dance, and Knisley said, “It’s as full-blown a production as we can do with our dancers.”

Maria began studying ballet at age 4, taking her first classes in Dana Point, Ca. Over the years, she studied and performed for companies such as Ballet Pacifica; the Royal Winnipeg Ballet of Canada and Santa Rosa Ballet; the Royal Danish Ballet and Redwood Empire Ballet; Marin Ballet and San Francisco Ballet; North Bay Performing Arts and the Santa Rosa Junior College Dance Department where she was instrumental in the development of the dance certificate program.

Maria studied several different methods of classical ballet including R.A.D. (Royal Academy of Dance), the Checcheti method, as well as the Vaganova method. Maria also completed a Bachelors of Arts in psychology.

Maria has been teaching ballet and jazz to children and adults for more than a quarter century in northern and southern California and has enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Big Bear High School drama and music departments choreographing the plays and musicals since 2010.

She specializes in comprehensive ballet training in a safe and positive environment. She believes that through the education of dance and the arts, students learn to thrive and succeed in their personal lives as well as their scholastic and professional careers.

Maria moved to Big Bear in 2004. She said, “Funding was beginning to dry up in schools for dance and I was lucky to have been offered at job at Snow Summit.”

It wasn’t long before her love of dance prompted her to begin to teach classes at the studio she would later own. “It was called the ‘Big Bear Performing Arts’ at the time. I also was working at studios in Lake Arrowhead.”

She purchased the Big Bear studio five years ago and says she teaches a comprehensive ballet program. She said the previous owner was overwhelmed by personal challenges and closed the studio which had been a Big Bear mainstay for 25 years. Maria said the studio was shuttered for about a year when she began to make inquires about getting it reopened.

“I took the leap because I really felt that Big Bear needed a dance studio,” Knisley said. “Our kids needed the outlet and there were other teachers in town that wanted to work, so I took it over. That was five years ago and now it’s really beginning to take off.

Knisley said opening the studio was a struggle, but now she is enjoying the fruits of that hard work.

As if they had all migrated to Big Bear from Missouri, the “Show Me State,” Knisley said most Bigbearians sat back at length after she first opened the doors, watching her efforts, programs and recitals before bringing prospective students to the boards of the now christened Moonridge School of Dance.

“Now, I guess, I’ve proved myself and more and more people are walking in the door,” she said.

What should a new student expect when beginning with the school? Maria said she works very hard to provide a comprehensive, positive experience. The school offers a wide variety of dance styles including and not limited to tap, ballet and jazz.

“In the spring we’ll also offer acting musical theater classes,” she said. “More than dance, I hope our students learn discipline, passion, love and focus.” She said she and her staff hope to help their students learn to interact socially more effectively and that they work to discover what a student’s dream is and then work to help the students accomplish those dreams.

When to dance?

Maria says it’s never too early or too late. “I start taking students at age 3, (hoping they’re potty trained,) and I have students as old as 84.”

The studio trains 6 days a week with most classes beginning about 3 p.m. year around. Maria works to keep pricing extremely reasonable. Additionally, as a student’s commitment grows the studio offers a sliding scale of discounts to help further that dedication. Serious dancers often dance four to six days a week to advance their skills and training.

“It’s amazing, but students with a passion for dance find it easy to commit that time,” she said.