Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Sarah Ricard Orza in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Sarah Ricard Orza in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Traditions. For many people, they’re at the heart of the holidays, no matter which one is celebrated. Gift giving, families gathering, candle lighting, and merry making by young and old alike -- all easily fit under the heading of tradition.

For many ballet companies and their audiences who love it, the Nutcracker is another tradition that’s revisited year after year. The original, classical Nutcracker ballet premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, 125 years ago. In 1954, choreographer George Balanchine, who danced in the Nutcracker in Russia as a child, mounted his own production for New York City Ballet.

Two years ago, Pacific Northwest Ballet brought Balanchine’s Nutcracker choreography to Seattle with author/illustrator and scenic designer Ian Falconer, best known for his Olivia children’s books, designing all-new sets and costumes for PNB. For married dancers Sarah Ricard Orza and Seth Orza — both principals with PNB — performing Balanchine’s Nutcracker again in Seattle in 2015 was like “coming full circle.” They had danced the choreography at New York City Ballet early in their careers. Now here they were 3,000 miles away, doing it again.

The Orzas can easily recall the first time they danced parts in Balanchine’s Nutcracker. It was the early years of their now two-decade-long relationship and 10-year marriage that began at the School of American Ballet in New York. Not only were they dancing on behalf of City Ballet during their year-long apprenticeship with that company, but they were also dating at the time. The two were cast to dance the “Hot Chocolate” (aka Spanish dance) pas de deux.

“We followed the same path from summer course to full-year students to New York City Ballet,” Ricard Orza said.

After finishing their apprenticeship, she and Seth went on to dance with City Ballet from 2000 to 2006 as members of the corps.

"Everything worked in our favor though our relationship and with our careers,” he said.

This includes fatefully bumping into Peter Boal, whom they knew from his many years at City Ballet, on the street in New York City. At the time, Boal had become PNB’s new artistic director following his retirement from performing. That chance encounter would get the Orzas thinking seriously about taking a giant leap of faith across the country and dancing with PNB.

A West Coast move

The Orzas then married and did indeed relocate to Seattle to join PNB. They were not the only ones from City Ballet to make the move, following Carla Körbes and Miranda Weese (both now retired).

“I kept hearing about Peter Boal and PNB,” Seth recalled. “It just seemed like it was on fire. The signs were pointing. Why not do it? Why not take the leap?”

Orza is originally from San Francisco, so for him, this was a return to the West Coast that he had hoped one day would come. Ricard Orza, on the other hand, grew up in Amherst, Mass.

“It was an opportunity to dance in a place that was breaking new ground and just beginning its journey with a new director, but also an opportunity to have a life that was more ideal in terms of quality … and ultimately have a family,” she said.

These two have — in fact — become three in the past ten years they’ve been with PNB. The Orzas — who live in Magnolia — welcomed daughter Lola May in 2013.

Lola hasn’t yet sat through an entire Balanchine Nutcracker production, even with her dad playing Drosselmeier — Clara’s uncle who brings her the beloved Nutcracker — or Cavalier, partner to the Sugar Plum Fairy, and mom in roles of Sugar Plum Fairy or another lead part. The couple has had the chance to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier pas de deux together for PNB during the past two years.

Orza said that her daughter needs to keep moving at her age, but that she’s fond of Clara’s red and white-striped party dress and Sugar Plum Fairy’s purple tutu. Lola also recognized Olivia from Ian Falconer’s book, since Falconer incorporated the character into the set design. Olivia gets a permanent box seat at the production. Seated in the audience, you can’t miss her.

Much has changed for the Orzas since they first danced the “Hot Chocolate” pas de deux together. Life is very full these days, and their schedule is tight.

In addition, he said that, “before had Lola, we would butt heads. Now we do our work, and we don’t bring it home.”

With Nutcracker a tradition in their lives for so long, Ricard Orza said, “One day it won’t be around, and we’ll say, ‘What are we going to do?’”

Perhaps, Lola will have some ideas for new traditions. Or who knows? Maybe they’ll be going to watch her perform. After all, ballet is in her genes.

George Balanchine’s, “The Nutcracker,” runs through Dec. 28 at McCaw Hall. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.pnb.org.
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