Sacramento’s performing arts community is ready for a strong comeback after enduring nearly two years of pandemic-related challenges that left many theaters dormant and countless artists out of work. One company anticipating a warm return to the stage is the Sacramento Ballet, with its retelling of “The Nutcracker” in the new SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center.
As the ballet’s first performance of 2021, the classic tale will feature three current and alumni artists as choreographers: Julia Feldman, Nicole Haskins and Colby Damon.
For many, “The Nutcracker” is a holiday tradition, so it was not just the perfect way to welcome audiences back to the ballet; it was also a means to give the dancers a taste of familiarity, says Sacramento Ballet’s executive and artistic director, Anthony Krutzkamp.
“I thought it was a really good way for the dancers to come back,” he says. “It’s that music that you know; it’s that feeling on stage. It’s like going back home.”
One professional dancer Krutzkamp was eager to welcome back home to Sac Ballet was Bobby Briscoe, an artist with more than 20 years of experience who was a part of the company for three seasons.
“I thought, we have to get Bobby back here,” Krutzkamp says. “He brings an immense amount of background of performances. He’s bringing this world of experience with him that’s going to be shown on stage. The audience will see the ease, the grace, the efficiency, the strength out of him, on top of his artistry.”
Act I: Story in Motion
Born in Washington, D.C., Briscoe went to “normal school” before enrolling in D.C.’s famed Duke Ellington School of the Arts. He recalls watching “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”—the 1993 film based on Peter Martins’ stage production, featuring dancer Darci Kistler and the New York City Ballet—on video with his classmates. It was his introduction to the story, and it would change the trajectory of his career. He was enthralled and inspired by the film.
“It was that video that really hit me that I wanted to be a dancer,” Briscoe says. “The music was just so musical. In the Arabian dance, there was a female solo and she walked heel-toe; she didn’t walk typical ballet steps. She did some flex jumps. I remember a magic trick that happened with the grand pas de deux. Those things really stuck out to me.”
Watching the film, Briscoe dreamed about where ballet could take him. His dreams always included possibilities beyond America.
“My time, especially at The Rock School ballet, there was a large international group of dancers—young dancers—which really opened me up to the possibilities of ballet,” Briscoe says, noting that he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Black dancer or have people assume he could dance only with Alvin Ailey or Dance Theatre of Harlem. “I wanted to be bigger than that,” he says. “I wanted to go beyond what is typical for American dancers. Many, many American dancers actually have gone beyond America, and I thought to myself, why not me? And my life did that. I went beyond America.”
After Duke Ellington, Briscoe studied at some of the finest ballet institutions in the country: Maryland Youth Ballet, The Rock School in Philadelphia (now known as The Rock School for Dance Education) and Chicago’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet.
“My journey as a ballet dancer has taken me a lot of places because I have a very, very strong curiosity,” Briscoe says. “As many young dancers, we all want to be in a big company, which led me to the Joffrey. But that turned out to be not what was interesting to me.”
Storytelling is what originally piqued Briscoe’s interest in ballet. He went on to explore this interest through leading roles in “Othello” with the Alberta Ballet in Canada and in “Cinderella”—as the evil stepmother, he pirouetted in heels and a wig—with Ballett Hagen in Germany.
He’s a world-class dancer who follows the music and his passion for movement, wherever it leads. For now, it’s led him back to Sacramento, where he’ll spend the next year as an integral part of Sac Ballet’s company of professional dancers, embracing his home away from home once again.
“Sacramento has always been a home base in some sort of way for me. I really enjoyed the company. I was there before the pandemic and then the pandemic cut it off,” Briscoe says. “So I’m just very happy to come back and get to work dancing and seeing all my friends in the studio. Whatever I’ll be dancing, I’ll be very, very excited.”
Act II: Ballet and Beyond
In early fall, Briscoe was at his home in Hitzacker, a small town in northern Germany. It’s not far from Hamburg, a musical-theater hot spot with more than 40 theaters. A multidisciplinary performer, Briscoe was preparing for his first musical audition, for “Hamilton,” while training in anticipation of his return to Sacramento.
He also recently produced his first short documentary film, “See, Listen, Know . . . Me.” It features a series of interviews with artists from diverse backgrounds, each person exploring freedom of expression through the lens of the LGBTQ+ community and its heterosexual allies. The interviews are interspersed with arresting dance performances set to original music.
“Being [in Europe], I’ve danced a lot of classical and contemporary works over the pandemic,” Briscoe says. “I’ve improved upon my singing; I’ve done some acting while I was here. I’m definitely a lot more informed as an artist.”
Through the thousands of miles traveled in his career and despite the aches, growing pains and mental fatigue he has endured, Briscoe says his love for dance and his passion for performance draw him back to the stage.
“I love it and it has loved me back. It has kicked my butt a few times, but it has loved me back mostly,” Briscoe says. “At this point, I’m really enjoying that I’m still learning new things. I’m still learning new ways of creation, new ways to say something, new avenues to present dance.”
See the Sacramento Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center, Dec. 11–23. For ticket information, visit sacballet.org.