Local philanthropist and "mompreneur" (co-founder of Tasty Brand organic food line) Liane Weintraub smiles as she watches her ballerina daughter Ava and her friends dressed in tutus enthusiastically selling raffle tickets and Nutcracker figurines to benefit the Malibu Civic Ballet's annual production of the beloved The Nutcracker, coming to Smothers Theatre this weekend.
This is a far cry from the work that the high-energy, dedicated businesswoman is best known for doing—founding and building the Music Center's premier dance program through Center Dance Arts, the support program she created in 2000, which ultimately attracted a $20 million dollar donation.
Two years ago, Weintraub—a tall, elegant woman who has had a lifelong love of ballet, first as a dancer, then as an avid ballet-goer—became enamored with the spirited Malibu Nutcracker. Her daughter Ava auditioned at age 5 and was cast as a Peppermint. She fell passionately in love with the Nutcracker tradition as well as the local Malibu dance community.
When Weintraub met Deborah La Gorce Kramer, the chair of the Malibu Ballet Performing Arts Society, and Diane Linder, director and choreographer of the Malibu Nutcracker, she became excited about the prospect of helping build the arts on a local level.
"This was my first encounter with the Malibu Nutcracker, and I became intrigued," Weintraub said. "I was extremely impressed with the quality of the choreography and the direction by the very talented Diane Linder. The production was magical, with sumptuous sets and costumes. It honestly rivaled some of the big national productions I had seen."
She continued, "After so many years of involvement on the 'world stage' of the arts, I became interested in the concept of local performing arts, something that has grown into a true passion for me."
Weintraub said she is amazed by local La Gorce Kramer's dedication to the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society and to ensuring its future, not only on behalf of her daughter, Gabriella Grahek (a beautiful dancer), but for the multitude of children who come up through the program every year and the thousands of audience members who come to see its performances.
"Deborah, who I now consider a dear friend, has completely pure intentions," Weintraub said. "I was charmed by her stories about the history of dance in Malibu, and how it has both flourished and weakened, on and off, over the decades. Everything she does is in order to improve the quality of life for this community and its visitors. I couldn't help but be swept up in her passion, which just so happened to dovetail with my own."
She continued, "We became unexpected partners in the business of 'saving the Malibu Nutcracker,' which desperately needed organizational help as well as funding. I dove in head-first, and I am thrilled to say that ballet in Malibu is definitely on the right track. It isn't easy, especially in a troubled economy, but there are many reasons to be optimistic that the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society will have a long, wonderful future."
Weintraub, who has two young children—Ava, 7, and Cole, 5—said Nutcracker will always hold a very special place in her heart.
"It was the ballet that lit the fire when I was a young girl in New York and my mother and I would see it together every year," Weintraub said. "It has ignited the same passion in my daughter Ava, creating a special bond between us. The snow scene brings me to tears every time. I love the music, the dancing snow flakes, the drama of the snow falling onstage—all of it."
The festive holiday Nutcracker production has united local Malibu children through their love of dance and classical music and they have been transformed by the enchanting Nutcracker experience.
"I think The Nutcracker is the ultimate vehicle to get new generations of young people interested in seeing and doing ballet," Weintraub said. "We encourage all children with a passion for dance to join us in this special tradition."
The Malibu Nutcracker will be performed at Pepperdine's Smothers Theatre Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 PM and Sunday, Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. Call 310-506-4522 to purchase tickets.