Nutcracker Alert: La Jolla ballerina wins the coveted role of Clara


By Jenna Jay

Sabina Schaffer, 14, of La Jolla will perform the role of Clara in The San Diego Ballet’s Nutcracker this holiday season with performances Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 17-18 around town.

Schaffer joins more than 100 costumed ballet dancers on stage to tell the classic story of “The Nutcracker,” set to Peter Tchaikovsky’s beloved score.

With rehearsals six days a week, every week, and for more than four hours per day at times, Schaffer has been perfecting her role since September.

An eighth-grader at La Jolla Country Day, she said she has danced with the San Diego School of Ballet for more than four years, participating in the “The Nutcracker” each season.

“In years past, I have been multiple parts, including a Gingersnap and a Garland Girl and a Party Girl and lots of roles. But everyone wants to be Clara,” Schaffer said. “Just to get it makes me feel special because they chose me for the role that all the girls want and try out for.”

The honor comes with sacrifice. With a part in several scenes, Schaffer eats, sleeps and dreams ballet as she prepares. Free time is a luxury as she spends her days balancing schoolwork and extra-curriculars.

“I do my studying in the car on my way to the studio,” Schaffer said. “It’s a good thing I don’t get carsick.”

Ballet is Schaffer’s focus, though she also takes contemporary and jazz classes and has training in hip-hop and ballroom.

“The best part of being Clara is being able to show off that I’m pretty good at dancing actually,” Schaffer said. “I’m showing off my technique and my skill level.”

The San Diego Ballet is in its 21st anniversary season. Its Nutcracker production is directed and choreographed by Robin Sherertz-Morgan and Javier Velasco. Studios are at Dance Place San Diego, 2650 Truxtun Road, at the NTC Promenade in Point Loma.

If you go

• What: San Diego Ballet’s Nutcracker

• Performances: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at Birch North Park Theater;

2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18 at Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD campus

• Tickets: $25-$45

• Box Office: (619) 294-7378

• Web:

Did you know?

For the ballet, Tchaikovsky joined forces with Marius Petipa, with whom he collaborated on “The Sleeping Beauty.” The material Petipa chose was an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by Alexandre Dumas père called “The Tale of the Nutcracker.”

The plot of Hoffmann’s story (and Dumas’ adaptation) was greatly simplified for the two-act ballet. Hoffmann’s tale contains a long flashback story within its main plot entitled “The Tale of the Hard Nut,” which explains how the Prince was turned into the Nutcracker. This had to be excised for the ballet.