High School Freshman Is Taking Center Stage in ‘Nutcracker’ Ballet

Liana Zangwill
Photo by Daphna Enzer

One of the most famous ballets of all time, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” has become a holiday tradition — the tale of a young girl’s favorite Christmas toy that comes to life.

This year, a local ballerina will play the leading role of Clara in the Pasadena Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker” at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. Liana Zangwill, 14, is in the ninth grade at South Pasadena High School and has been practicing ballet for the past decade.

“I started ballet when I was around 4 years old, but I didn’t really start focusing on it more exclusively until I came to Pasadena Dance Theatre (PDT) Conservatory in the seventh grade,” Zangwill said. “This is my third year performing in ‘The Nutcracker.’ Part of the reason I love ballet so much is that you can express yourself with just expression and movement, which is amazing to think about. And now that I get to do partnering more often, it is really an incredible feeling to nail a section of steps and choreography, like lifts or turns with my partner.”

Despite a nerve-wracking audition process, Zangwill was among three ballerinas who scored the role of Clara in the ballet, with Zangwill being the only one from South Pasadena.

“After it was over and the girls cast as Clara were called up, I was sort of in shock and realized, ‘Oh, I guess I’m Clara then?’” she said. “I remember I came out of the audition room to a bunch of my friends and I got to share with them that I was Clara. I was incredibly excited and happy that day!”

Zangwill grew up attending PDT’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which she has watched since she was 4. This will be the first year that she won’t be watching a full performance, because she is dancing in each one.

“I love that ‘The Nutcracker’ has so many different parts, all with different emotions and types of dancing involved,” said Zangwill. “As Clara, I get to transition from being in a party scene, a battle and more throughout the performance. The story is special to me because I’ve been going to see ‘The Nutcracker’ every year since I was really little, and it’s always been a big part of my winter, so being able to participate in that is very cool.”

So far, Zangwill has performed as Clara in two shows for PDT this year — one kids outreach and one public performance — and has also played the role of Clara’s friend in another show, as well as a supporting dancer in the Waltz of the Flowers and the Chinese Dance. PDT’s outreach program is committed to expanding access to the conservatory to students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in ballet, and it presents low-cost theater performances to schoolchildren in addition to maintaining a scholarship program for underserved youth.

PDT’s upcoming performances of “The Nutcracker” will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21 and 22, at 2 p.m. and on Monday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. Zangwill will appear onstage again as Clara in the Dec. 23 performance.

“I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything about the experience, from going to long rehearsals to learn all my parts and working on them with all my friends to getting to come to the theater and rehearse, then perform onstage,” Zangwill said. “It’s also been amazing to have such great teachers and choreographers, and such a caring group of dancers that has become a close community throughout the season.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, call (626) 683-32459 or visit pdtnutcracker.com.