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Dream to dance ‘Clara’ comes true for La Jolla teen

Like every little girl who ever fell under the magic spell of “The Nutcracker” ballet, Nikki Fig always wanted to dance the coveted role of Clara.

The 17-year-old La Jolla Country Day School senior got her wish - twice, in fact. Fig was chosen to dance the part of Clara - the young girl who dreams about a world of sugar plums, candy canes and other delectables - in last year’s California Ballet production of the beloved fairytale ballet. Then, to add frosting to the cake, she was given another opportunity to dance in “The Nutcracker” this year.

You can see the talented and effervescent teen in the California Ballet’s full-blown production of “The Nutcracker,” which begins a two-weekend run at the Civic Theater on Dec. 15.

The popular ballet about a little girl and her enchanted dream is just one of many dance productions that Fig has been part of with the Cal Ballet, and it’s the ninth “Nutcracker” in which she has appeared. So why is this role so special to the busy high school senior?

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“I’ve always dreamed of dancing Clara,” she said. “It’s a dream role. I’ve danced in just about all the California Ballet productions, including ‘Giselle,’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ but Clara is definitely my favorite role.”

Maxine Mahon, founding director of the company and a veteran dancer herself, is bullish about Fig’s contribution to the California Ballet.

“She is especially suited for the role,” Mahon said. “The sweetness of her personality and the fact that she’s an exceptionally good dancer are part of the reason. She’s also small and has a personality that really projects. Nikki is very dramatic and emotional. I remember her as a 9-year-old. You could spot her in the corps. You couldn’t miss it - that stage presence. Now, she’s also acquired finesse, and she knows how to use it.”

Cal Ballet’s “Nutcracker” features many other La Jolla children on stage. Among them are Sahya Kato, Henry Smith, Isabella Paydar, Valy Menendez, Alexandra Paydar, Erica Brady, Elliot Applebaum, Sydney Yockey, Mia Chelemen and Delia Rowland.

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The show entertained local audiences at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in early December, but the Civic Theater production is much more elaborate and is danced to a live orchestra: the San Diego Symphony, led by California Ballet’s music director John Stubbs.

“We use more dancers in the Civic Theater production,” Mahon said, “and we have complete sets and scenery. We also have a bigger stage floor, and the best part of all is the orchestra. There are 32 players.”

“The Nutcracker” features music by Tchaikovsky and a storyline based on the E.T.A. Hoffman tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Mahon choreographed this version of the classic, after the original dance designs by Marius Pitipa and Lev Ivanov, who created the ballet back in 1892. This year, the company will celebrate its 40th anniversary in San Diego, which is quite a feat for any ballet company in the country.

Mahon said of her vision for Clara, “I created Clara as an older child who is beginning to daydream about love.”

Mahon is opposed to casting adults in children’s roles, because that would destroy the ballet’s sense of wonder, she said.

“I believe children should play children’s roles,” she said. “I presented the Kingdom of the Sweets as having many confections, putting artistic life into fanciful childish dreams. It celebrates the power of human imagination that children have in abundance. To make it sophisticated steals the charm.”

This family-friendly production also features professional dancers, including guest artists Vadim Solomakha, Vitaliy Nechay and Gregor Hatala. Cal Ballet principals Jennifer Curry and Cassandra Lund will share the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen during these upcoming performances. You can order tickets at the Cal Ballet box office by calling (858) 560-6741.