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Alpine artist’s work celebrates Tchaikovsky’s homeland and her own Russian heritage

December 3, 2010 (Poway)—Enchanting Russian scenes created by Alpine Artist Catherine Hand, MA, MFA frame Southern California Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker on December 4, at 1:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 15498 Espola Road, Poway. Inspired by her mother’s legacy and her own travel in Russia, Hand designed backdrops rich in Russian art and architecture for SCB’s performance. Russian-themed sets are rare among Nutcracker productions.

“My mother was born in the Ukraine and escaped to Canada when the Jews were driven out. In her twenties she was sent as an emissary to Russia to study labor organizing. She brought back with her an ebony lacquer box with a beautiful painting of a troika (a horse-drawn Russian carriage). Of all my mother's things, this oval antique box is my most treasured possession," Hand recalled.


“In 1976, I traveled to Russia myself with a group of dancers. I grew up fearing the Soviet Union and was taught to see Red Square as the symbol of communism and the threat of nuclear war, but when I got to Moscow and saw that fairy tale fantasy world of gorgeous fanciful architecture, it left an indelible impression on me of a time of storytelling, poetry and romance."

“Twenty years later . . . Sylvia and Mark Zetler commissioned me to design the Nutcracker [for the Southern California Ballet production (then Southern California Youth Ballet). [They] gave me the opportunity . . . to transform that [childhood] symbol of fear into a child's fantasy.

“I changed the walls of Red Square into strawberry shortcake. The Russian dachas (country cottages) became gingerbread houses dripping with icing. The onion domes were painted like crystalline candy-coated confections, the pillars, candy canes of exotic marzipan colors.”

Hand even managed to include a subtle reference to former president Ronald Reagan’s famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Since Reagan loved jelly beans, she filled one scene with a swirling cotton candy sky and flying jelly beans of all colors. “This was my vision of the sweet peace that I hoped to see in my lifetime,” Hand commented.

The Nutcracker is a great way to introduce children to ballet and the world of theatre. At the Southern California Ballet’s production, children go backstage following each performance, where they can see the sets up close and meet the performers. With sets to delight a child’s whimsy, the beauty of the music and movement, plus ticket prices well below the average, this one-day-only holiday performance is perfect for families.

Since only two performances are scheduled, the tickets will sell out early. Priced at $15, $21, and $28 each, they will go on sale soon through the box office of the Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 858-748-0505, or online at

Southern California Ballet ( is a non-profit performing entity in residence at Black Mountain Dance Centre ( SCB is dedicated to the development of strong dance artists through training by a renowned staff of instructors credentialed in the International Cecchetti Ballet Method.

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