In the Sacramento Civic Ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker,” young Marie dreams that her toy nutcracker — a gift from her uncle, broken by her brother — comes to life and whisks her away to the Land of Sweets for a Christmas adventure.
Bella Garibaldi, a Lodi ballet dancer, performs as the Sugar Plum Fairy, ruler of the Land of Sweets. But it’s not her first year dancing in the iconic Christmas ballet. She’s been the Sugar Plum Fairy once before, along with turns as the Rose and the Arabian.
“We do it every year, every Christmas,” she said.
She will also perform as Mary in a ballet based on the Nativity story.
The two roles are feathers in the cap of a high school senior who has worked hard at her craft, and is now turning her attention toward choosing a college and a future.
Bella has been dancing for as long as she can remember.
When her sister was 5 years old, she began taking ballet classes at Hutchins Street Square, mother Barbi Garibaldi said. The class only enrolled children ages 3 and older, she said. Bella, at 2 1/2, was too young to join in, but she wanted to go and watch with her mom.
“She would stand up and copy what they were doing,” Barbi Garibaldi said.
So the teacher made an exception, and Bella was allowed to officially join as a student.
She’s been dancing ever since. Breaks to try other sports, such as soccer and volleyball, haven’t lasted. She always returned to ballet.
Bella joined the Lodi Youth Ballet at the age of 5. When she was 10, teacher Jessica Pittman suggested she join a “pre-professional” company in Sacramento, and Bella began studying with the Deane Dance Center in Sacramento.
It was a lot more challenging, she said. The center has several teachers and more training. That picked up when Bella auditioned to join the company. She even enrolled at St. Francis High School in Sacramento so that she wouldn’t have to rush from Lodi to afterschool classes and rehearsals at Deane Dance Center.
“It’s really hard, and a lot of people don’t see it that way,” she said.
It’s not just time consuming to practice and rehearse; it’s also physically demanding.
But dancing has given Bella opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise.
From June to August, many dance schools ease their intense class and rehearsal schedules so that more advanced students can join summer intensives. Students have to audition for a spot in those programs.
Through summer intensives, Bella has been able to visit Durango, Colo., Boston and Seattle, along with spending time in San Francisco. The students spend eight hours a day, six days a week dancing, but they have time to do a little sightseeing.
She’s also had the opportunity to dance for an audience in the Sacramento Civic Ballet’s shows.
The ballet’s version of “The Nutcracker” is a little different, Barbi Garibaldi said. It’s narrated, which is unusual but makes it a good entry for those who have never seen a ballet or young children, since the story is easier to follow.
“This is a very family-friendly production as it has been shortened and is also narrated,” said Judy Kent, who is helping the Sacramento Civic Ballet with publicity for the holiday performances. “It is beautifully choreographed with wonderful costumes and dancers.”
And it’s followed in two of the performances by “Christmas Angels,” which shares the story of the birth of Jesus.
“It’s really beautifully choreographed,” Barbi said.
“Christmas Angels” features a live infant in the role of the baby Jesus — which can sometimes lead to surprises like the baby crying when he’s lifted out of the manger.
“It’s happened before,” Bella said with a laugh.
Bella especially likes dancing in “The Nutcracker.”
“Every dance in the Land of Sweets is good,” she said.
Bella isn’t sure what lies ahead for her. She’s considering studying English or film in college, but she’s not sure where she’ll be headed to pursue her education next year.
She weighed the idea of dancing professionally, but doesn’t see that in her future right now. But that doesn’t mean she’s hanging up her toe shoes. She loves dancing too much.
“I’ll probably keep it in my life somehow,” she said.