Monterey County Dance Theatre Artistic Director Jan Harkness (center) cuts the ribbon for the new “Tribute to Nutcracker” mural at the dance studio at 332 Bassett St. during a dedication on June 17. (Sean Roney)

KING CITY — Monterey County Dance Theatre hosted a dedication of the “Tribute to Nutcracker” mural on June 17, during which a crowd of past and present dancers, along with their families, watched the official unveiling of the new artwork on the studio’s north side.

Planning for the mural began in 2019, when Monterey County Dance Theatre (MCDT) had its 60th anniversary.

The lead muralist was Gloria Sanchez, with assistance from Heidy Torres, Daysi Tapia, Antonio Ramirez and Evelyn Deniz. That group took two weeks to paint the mural with community support, from local businesses providing scaffolding and paint, to donated food.

The mural features MCDT founder Pauline Hall pondering the start of “Nutcracker” productions, including her three daughters, JeNell, Paula and Jan. One of those daughters, Jan Harkness, is the current director of the dance studio, where she has been teaching for 37 years.

The mural also includes the names of past and current dancers who paid to have their names included. Funds raised from the mural project went toward dance scholarships and show production costs.

“This mural encapsulates the story of how our ‘Nutcracker’ ballet evolved from the first production in 1959 to the present day,” said Allie Cullen, a board member of Monterey County Dance Foundation. “I don’t think that Pauline Hall could have ever dreamed of the number of lives her vision would touch 62 years ago.”

Gloria Sanchez speaks about her role as project lead for King City’s latest mural, which now adorns the north side of Monterey County Dance Theatre. (Sean Roney)

Harkness described some of the elements in the mural, such as the presence of the El Camino Hotel, which is where the performance began in King City.

“It was read and acted out mostly because at that time we were very little,” Harkness said of the earliest King City performances. “‘The Nutcracker’ started on a very small scale with small skill sets. Through the years, the skill sets have built and built.”

She discussed how many dancers begin young and how their earliest roles are often house mice, the characters with red bloomers depicted in the mural.

Harkness credited community and parent support as the reason the dance studio has been able to expand its roster to include more shows.

“I’d like to congratulate all the dancers, this is all about you,” Harkness said to her current students and alumni as she spotted them in the crowd.

Sanchez, a King City High School and Hartnell graduate, said the mural was her first time as lead muralist. She had previously worked as an assistant for Jennifer Beebe-Hargrove, the lead muralist for prior projects in recent years. Hargrove moved to Atlanta in the past year, but recommended Sanchez for future projects.

Sanchez noted being in charge of a project was “scary at first,” but with the help of her team she learned leadership and even more art techniques from the different way her team members used color theory and brushes.

The mural includes many different elements, but Sanchez said the colorful and cloudy sky was one of her favorite parts, which she credited Ramirez and Deniz with painting, as well as the faces, of which she said she did most.

“They are all so talented, confident yet humble people,” Cullen said of the muralist team. “The dimension and life they gave to this mural is remarkable. For most of them, this is their first mural and I very much hope it is not their last.”

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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