SIERRA VISTA — To the casual observer, Tuesday’s Sierra Vista Ballet rehearsal for upcoming performances of “The Nutcracker” was just like any other. Hilda Bergsneider has been producing the Tchaikovsky classic with her local ballet company for 42 years, after all, so it must be routine.
But for Bergsneider and her longtime assistants and dancers — and there are many — this year’s production is far from ordinary, lacking a key co-producer, friend and partner: Hilda Bergsneider’s husband of 67 years, Peter Bergsneider, who passed away in March at 92.
For decades — since the couple moved to Sierra Vista in 1973 — Peter encouraged and bolstered Hilda’s love of dance, designing and building remarkable sets for Sierra Vista Ballet’s biannual productions. “The Nutcracker” has been one of those productions every year since 1977, and this will be Hilda’s and the dance troupe’s first without Peter.
“It’s been very hard,” Hilda said Tuesday in her thick Colombian accent. “It’s hard to put together the show without him. He always took charge of putting together the props and all the construction that I would use for ‘The Nutcracker.’ ... It’s different this year without Peter, but we are trying to do (as good a job) as past years.”
Hilda said several people are working long hours and “doing a wonderful job” piecing sets together for the production, which will have two performances; one each on the evening of Dec. 6 and the afternoon of Dec. 8.
Christina Ibarra-Jurado, 33, has been dancing with Hilda Bergsneider since she was 8 years old and teaching alongside her mentor for the past eight years. Ibarra-Jurado has taken over the choreography for the ballet — “The Nutcracker” tells a story of a young German girl who dreams her nutcracker comes to life as a prince — while Hilda tends to the child dancers, some as young as 4 years old.
“It’s definitely different (this year, without Peter),” Ibarra-Jurado said. “He always was around, giving his two cents and always coming up with new ideas for sets and stuff like that. So, it’s definitely been different.”
But the show must go on, and she said Hilda has the mental and emotional wherewithal to forge ahead with the production.
“Hilda is a strong lady. She’s tough,” Ibarra-Jurado said. “She, through adversity, just kind of pushes through.”
Sabreena Barnett, a 22-year-old dancer who has been dancing with Hilda since she was 4 and developed a close relationship with the Bergsneiders, was working with the youngest of the Nutcracker ballerinas at Tuesday’s rehearsal. Barnett has performed in the classic ballet several times — she will again this year — and said the dance company has pulled together to overcome the loss of Peter Bergsneider to put this year’s Nutcracker together and ease the burden on their leader.
“We’ve all pitched in a little bit extra,” she said. “It’s taken a lot more to help everybody. We’re all trying to help Hilda, so that it looks just like it does every year.”
Barnett, who said in a Herald/Review interview shortly after Peter Bergsneider’s passing that “we’ll all miss Peter’s smiling face when we come through the door,” noted Tuesday that while it’s difficult to go on with the production without him, the dancers are still enjoying themselves, as Peter would want.
“It’s hard, but it’s fun,” she said. “Even if it’s hard, it’s still fun.”