If a ballet could run through a dancer’s blood, Tchaikovsky’s holiday ballet “The Nutcracker” surely would be in the veins of Paul Mejia, artistic director of the Arlington-based Mejia Ballet International.
As a young dancer in New York City, he started with small children’s roles in the New York City Ballet such as Little Fritz, the Little Prince and the like. As an apprentice in the company, directed then by the legendary George Ballanchine, he progressed to larger roles — the Spanish dancers, mice, the Grandfather, the Chinese dancers — before finally dancing as the Cavalier.
His 17-year-old son Roman, also a ballet dancer, is presently in New York, performing in — you guessed it — “The Nutcracker.” And it’s Mejia and his company that will bring “The Nutcracker” to Waco this Sunday, performing with the Waco Symphony Orchestra at Waco Hall.
Not only is the ballet familiar, so is the territory: the Peruvian-born Mejia led the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet in 1992 when it performed “The Nutcracker” with the WSO, returning that spring to dance “Cinderella,” also with the symphony.
Those productions required a little adjustment to fit the narrower Waco Hall stage, but the experience of dancing with a live orchestra rather than a soundtrack outweighed any changes needed to fit the space.
When the Austin Ballet, a longtime “Nutcracker” collaborator with the WSO, was unavailable to perform in Waco this year, WSO officials contacted Mejia about his present company and he jete’d at the chance.
“This is a special treat . . . .We always wanted to perform with live music. It’s a rarity these days, so when the Waco Symphony asked . . . I said, we gotta do it,” he recalled in a phone interview after a recent school rehearsal.
The Mejia Ballet and its academy focuses more on training than a touring schedule, but the company found room to add Waco to its annual “Nutcracker” performances in San Antonio. There, a large stage gives dancers more room for jumps and acceleration, but the trade-off for Waco Hall’s smaller stage is a performance where dancers are acutely attuned to a music that breathes, Mejia said.
“When you’re live, you have to listen,” he said. “I love to watch dancers (with live music): They are alive. It’s a living art form.”
The company will bring 38 dancers to Waco, incorporating 45 children from the Waco area into its production. Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet follows a young Clara through a Christmas Eve dream in which her toy nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince who leads her through a fantasyland of dancing snowflakes, sweets and fairies. It contains some of the Russian composer’s most familiar music, including “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Waltz of the Snow Flakes” and “Waltz of the Flowers.”
The Mejia Ballet production is staged like the George Ballanchine-choreographed version in which Mejia danced as a youth. “It’s traditional, a very entertaining Nutcracker,” he said. “A nice story and wonderful Christmas event . . . with no hidden meanings.”
Long a sellout event for the Waco Symphony, this year’s version sold all of Waco Hall’s 2,222 seats nearly a week before the performance, noted Waco Symphony Association executive director Susan Taylor.
That’s no surprise to Mejia, who finds his personal love for Tchaikovsky and “The Nutcracker” echoed in the omnipresence of the ballet’s music during the Christmas season. “Tchaikovsky in the malls — Who would ever think?” said Mejia. “Only in America, right?”