Forget the name — Ballet San Jose’s presence at the State Theatre through Dec. 2 is the revival of a beloved local holiday tradition. Untold numbers of Clevelanders made the trip downtown to see annual performances of “The Nutcracker” in the years before the Cleveland San Jose Ballet — once known simply as the Cleveland Ballet —changed its name and moved to California’s Silicon Valley in 1999. Longtime artistic director Dennis Nahat, who has since added executive director to his title, talks about why it took so long for the company to get back here, what makes “The Nutcracker” special, holidays on the West Coast, and whether Cleveland will ever be home to a ballet troupe again.
Why did it take eight years for the company to get back here for a performance?
It’s a matter of timing, I suppose. A couple of years back, [Playhouse Square] tried to bring us in. But the theater was not available — the funding was not available to them.
What makes Ballet San Jose’s “The Nutcracker” — the same “The Nutcracker” so many Clevelanders remember — unique?
The family gathering [scenes], I guess, is what separates ours from others. I often wondered why many of the family scenes were impersonal. I tried to make our scenes like a real family, with children being real children, adults having a good time.
You grew up in Detroit and worked in Cleveland with the ballet for close to 30 years. What’s it like celebrating Christmas in California?
No snow! San Jose really puts out the red carpet for the holidays. The whole city is decorated. There’s a park two blocks from the theater that is totally Christmas. I mean, they put up trees, and they put up white canvas to make it look snowy. They even have snow machines.
Do you think this city will ever be able to support a ballet company again?
Money can always be found, one way or another. It’s a matter of size, scope and determination. If there is a great desire for something that everybody believes in, it will happen.