Check it out
What: “The Nutcracker” ballet
Where: Veterans’ Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St.
When: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 29-30, and 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1
Tickets: $15, available the Davis Art Center, 1919 F St., or at the door
Info: Call 530-756-4100
By Shari Walter
Friday at 2:30 p.m., the curtain rises and the familiar stage setting of Hanneke & Co.’s “The Nutcracker” ballet sparkles with holiday magic in a room decorated for a Victorian Christmas. A portrait of a couple adorns the wall above the fireplace — the same portrait that has adorned the set for 13 years.
A quick glance between the portrait and the couple hosting the gala lets the audience know that this is not the couple’s first turn at playing host.
Katie and Mack Jones have danced with Hanneke Lohse’s ballet company for 16 years, and the portrait was painted when they were in college — and not yet married — 13 years ago by Davis artist Bill Maul. Now, the Jones family has three generations dancing in “The Nutcracker” ballet.
Judy Hollis, Katie’s mom, dances as Grandmother for the second year in a row. Mack and Katie Jones perform as Herr and Frau Stahlbaum, the party hosts; daughter, Gianna, 6, performs as a party boy; and son, Callum, 2, adds a charm and unpredictability to every rehearsal and performance.
When asked how she dances holding a 2-year-old, Katie said: “It isn’t always easy on my back, but he does love it. He is a mama’s boy right now, and actually loves being on stage as well. Hanneke is so kind to let us have him on stage — most companies would not allow such a ‘wild card’ on stage! But that really speaks to the nature of the whole company. It’s about including everyone and having fun so that the production is authentic and loving, not rigid and intangible.”
Mack describes his son as “a ham” on stage. During one rehearsal, Callum used his borrowed champagne glass as a sword, to mimic other performers. He usually sits next to his sister during the puppet show. He said his favorite part of the ballet is “the rats.” When asked if he wants to dance ballet, he said “Ya!”
Gianna began dancing when she was 2, although she was in her mother’s arms during performances when she was 1.
“I’m kind of nervous and I’m happy,” Gianna says about dancing in “The Nutcracker.” “All those people in the audience make me nervous. But I’m happy because, well, I’m performing in ‘The Nutcracker.’ ” She dreams of dancing as Clara someday.
Dancing has always been a part of the Jones family’s life.
“We actually met and fell in love while country dancing at The Grad here in Davis,” Mack said. “To be on stage, though, is such a cool experience. To have the chance to do something different, something special with the love of your life, is magical. And to be able to dance together in front of an audience just makes it even more exciting.
“I don’t really consider myself a ballet dancer,” he added. “When I was younger I was actually a competitive country-western couples dancer. International champion in ’97, in fact. Getting into ballet really started off as a way to be around Katie more often.”
Katie started dancing ballet when she was 3.
“I knew very little of country dancing,” she said. “But, we had such chemistry on the dance floor it didn’t matter.
“When Hanneke caught word that there was a guy who knew some sort of dance around, she took the opportunity to get him on stage,” Katie added.
How do they manage everything?
“Ha! Ha! I have no idea,” Mack said. “It really does take a lot of commitment to the show, to Hanneke and to our fellow dancers, but our family really tries to live and love life at all times. The rehearsals, the sleepy or bored kids, ‘The Nutcracker’ music stuck in our heads for months are all part of making memories together.
“When we are all older and the kids are off doing their own thing we will always have that ‘Nutcracker’ magic our family got to experience together.”
Hollis is also thankful for the family time.
“I am so grateful to Hanneke for offering me the opportunity and encouragement to share the stage and experience will all the dancers, but most especially Katie, Mack, Gianna and Callum,” said Hollis, whose husband died in 2012.
“To be part of their family tradition and to dance on stage with them is so much fun — a dream come true and an absolute joy,” Hollis said. “I treasure every minute. ”
When the Joneses are not dancing, Katie works as a genetic counselor at Kaiser Permanente, and Mack is a teacher at Will C Wood High School in Vacaville.
“Within the ballet family it is always fun to see a blood family,” said Ania Mieszkowska, who dances with the company. Her son will dance the role of the The Nutcracker Prince for the opening show. “There is something so special about sharing the magic of stage performance with your own child. How marvelous to watch a mother/daughter/granddaughter all share that magic together.”
Magic is often associated with “The Nutcracker.”
“I think that theater in general is magical, and, of course, this particular ballet is about magical things happening,” Katie said. “Getting this many people to coordinate places and movements is a magical feat in and of itself, but this ballet embodies the sense of wonder that children and adults alike have during winter holidays.
“Twinkling lights, delicate music, flurries of snow and intriguing characters create a magical feeling that is reminiscent of the special holidays many of us have been fortunate enough to have had.”