Oakland ballet dancers (from left to right): Chris Dunn, Ashley Thopiah, Evan Ambrose, Samantha Bell, Rachel Seeholzer, Aidan O’Leary, Paunika Jones, and Lawrence Chen Credit: Amir Aziz

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It’s a chilly morning at the start of a full day of rehearsals for the Oakland Ballet Company. The ballet’s director, Graham Lustig, coaches two dancers cast in next weekend’s production of The Nutcracker, as they run through the choreography. Other dancers warm up on the side while watching their peers pirouette on the Alameda Ballet Academy studio floor.

A lot goes on behind the scenes for this production to happen. In addition to rehearsing at the studio in Alameda, the company rehearses in Oakland at the Malonga Casquelourd Center and at a studio in Mills College. Rehearsals involve student dancers, as well as seasoned company dancers. In total, this season’s production of The Nutcracker will use 20 of the former and 50 of the latter to make the show come to life. “It takes a lot of work to bring all these pieces together,” Lustig said during a break in the action.

Among the dancers is Jazmine Quezada, who is in her third season with OBC. This year, she plays the Sugar Plum Fairy, who welcomes Clara and the Nutcracker prince into her magical Land of Sweets. Quezada most recently played the role of Luna for OBC’s Day of the Dead production of Luna Mexicana

“I think audience members are gonna be really excited when they watch the show,” Quezada said of The Nutcracker. “It’s very thrilling to watch and see everyone perform on stage again, especially since it’s been such a long time.”

For Quezada, playing the Sugar Plum Fairy is life coming full circle. “My school took me to go see The Nutcracker when I was in the third grade,” she said. “And seeing all the dancers dancing on stage, I thought, ‘I want to do that when I’m older.’  And now I’m going to be Sugar Plum. It is very exciting.” 

Jazmine Quezada dances with Evan Ambrose during one of the OBC rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” at the Alameda Ballet Company. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

The Oakland Ballet Company was last together on stage during the 2019 season. But thanks in part to COVID-19 vaccines, the company is again able to gather in-person to rehearse, and more importantly, perform in front of a live audience. 

Lustig wants the public to know that both OBC and the Paramount Theatre, where the performances will take place, are doing everything they can to keep patrons safe and feeling comfortable at the show. 

COVID safety requirements will be strictly enforced at the Paramount. Patrons 12 and older must show an ID and proof of full vaccination (which means at least two weeks have passed since the second vaccine shot). Kids between 3 and 11 years old who aren’t vaccinated must show proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days of the show.  All patrons are required to wear a mask unless eating or drinking. 

For the Oakland Ballet Company’s part, all dancers are fully vaccinated. They even rehearse with masks on and wear masks behind the scenes on performance days until they go on stage. 

“I want audiences to feel like it is safe to come back,” Lustig said. “You can sit next to a stranger with a mask on. But especially because everybody’s vaccinated. You can have a really beautiful experience back in the theater, as a family together. We want to welcome you back to the show.” 

The Oakland Ballet Company presents Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker,” Saturday, Dec. 18, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m., $24-$99, Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.