Oly goes nuts for ‘Nutcracker’

A classic: Two productions have almost 400 dancers between them

MOLLY GILMORE; Contributing writerDecember 9, 2011 

When it comes to holiday entertainment traditions, “Nutcracker” is near the top of the list. The website nutcrackerballet.net lists hundreds of productions across the country. Can you think of another ballet that would have a website devoted to a catalog of its performances?

“Nowhere else is this ballet so beloved as in the United States,” Alastair Macaulay wrote in a 2010 New York Times article about the phenomenal popularity of the Tchaikovsky ballet. “Some American companies dance ‘Nutcracker’ and nothing else; most dance far more performances of it than any other work.”

Even Olympia —better known for DIY culture and alternative music than ballet — has two productions of the story of young Clara, whose uncle gives her a nutcracker that battles with an army of rodents, turns into a prince and then accompanies the girl on a journey to the land of snow and sweets.

“It’s nice to see the Olympia area can foster two ‘Nutcrackers’ and have both of them have good ticket sales,” said Stephanie Wood of Studio West Dance Theatre, whose studio is mounting the newer of the two “Nutcracker” productions in town. “You probably wouldn’t have seen that 10 years ago.”

BALLET NORTHWEST’S ‘THE NUTCRACKER’

Artistic directors: Ken and Josie Johnson

Years production has been going: 27

Number of dancers: 220

Professional dancers: Two. Patrick Pulkrabek plays the Prince, and Danny Boulet dances the Snow King; both have danced with Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater.

What’s new: “We added a couple of pieces in the second act with music from ‘Swan Lake,’ ” Ken Johnson said. One is a ribbon-candy dance in which the dancers dance with ribbons; the other is a French dance featuring some of the most advanced dancers.

Directors’ favorites: For both Johnsons, it’s “Waltz of the Flowers” and the new ribbon-candy dance.

“We have Bud and Mary Johansen playing the grandparents in the party scene,” Josie Johnson added. (Bernard “Bud” Johansen is the company’s former artistic director.) “It’s always great to have them.”

STUDIO WEST DANCE THEATRE’S ‘THE NUTCRACKER’

Artistic directors: Stephanie Wood and Mary Cecelia Zechmann

Years production has been going: 3

Number of dancers: 160

Professional dancers: One. Joseph Jefferies, formerly of Ballet Memphis, plays the Cavalier (another name for the Snow King); he and Wood performed “Nutcracker” together in Memphis.

What’s new: This year’s snow kingdom will be snowier. “Last year, we just had a snow bag upstage,” Wood said. “This year, we’ll have a snow bag upstage and downstage, so that will double the snow. Every year, we want to make it more of a crazy blizzard.”

Directors’ favorites: For Zechmann, it’s the fight scene. “It’s so energetic and has so much madness in it,” she said.

Wood couldn’t really choose a favorite. “I love every part,” she said. She added that she has fond memories of dancing in it herself. “ ‘The Nutcracker’ is very special to me. A lot of dancers say they get sick of it, and I just loved it every year.”

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