Published December 13, 2012
Two local 'Nutcrackers' to choose fromMOLLY GILMORE
The Nutcracker, the classic ballet about a little girl, her Christmas gift and her vivid fairytale dreams, is kind of like Santa. Theres only one, it comes but once a year, and yet it is everywhere.So it is with the Tchaikovsky ballet, which made its debut on Dec. 18, 1892, and in the 1960s became as ubiquitous as department-store versions of the jolly old elf.Right here in Olympia, there are two productions of the Nutcracker, and theyll be going on simultaneously this weekend. As if that werent enough, both are at theaters managed by The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, which could lead to box office confusion. Nutcracker tickets are on sale now through the Washington Center, the Ballet Northwest website announces. Be sure to ask for Ballet Northwest.Heres a look at that production and that of its younger sibling, put on by Studio West Dance Theatre.BALLET NORTHWESTArtistic directors: Ken and Josie JohnsonNumber of years production has been going: 28Number of performances: Eight over two weekendsNumber of dancers: 200A new prince has come to Ballet Northwests holiday ballet: Iyun Harrison of Seattle.He graduated from Juilliard and danced in New York and moved to the Northwest to teach at Cornish (College of the Arts in Seattle), Ken Johnson said. He danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Ballet Hispanico and Ailey II, Alvin Aileys second company.Harrison also has his own dance company, Ashani Dances.Another professional dancer also joins the cast: Sam Picart of Seattle, a member of Ashani Dances, will dance with the Dew Drop Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers.But Johnson is just as excited about the local dancers participating. All of the major roles except Harrisons and Picarts have been double-cast to give more dancers the opportunity to shine.Our Snow Queens and our Sugar Plum Fairies all went to nationally renowned summer (dance) programs, he said. Its great to see them come back and take on these lead roles.The Sugar Plum Fairies are Natalie Rawson, a freshman at Olympia High School, and Tilia Fu, a junior at Olympia High School. The Snow Queens are Anna Thornton, in eighth grade at Aspire Middle School, and Kathleen Evans, a junior at North Thurston High School.Its our next generation, Johnson said. It really is bringing the show to a new level of freshness and a new level of professionalism.STUDIO WEST DANCE THEATREArtistic directors: Stephanie Wood and Mary Cecelia ZechmannNumber of years production has been going: FourNumber of performances: Four on one weekendNumber of dancers: 185At Studio West, therell be some new scenery, costumes and effects frosting the holiday cake.Mother Ginger (a comical role danced again by Nat Boggs of Olympia) will be wearing a new dress.Since the character is on stilts and hides young dancers under her skirts, this was no simple feat. It required 75 yards of fabric.The production also has added a sleigh that will take Clara to the land of the sweets, snow in the street scene that opens that ballet, and a new bag of magic tricks for Herr Drosselmeyer, the uncle who gives Clara the nutcracker.Some of the dances may look a bit different, too, Wood said.I do change choreography here and there, she said. I have made certain sections more challenging for our dancers, because our dancers are improving by leaps and bounds.Im a mad scientist when Im in the studio working with the dancers. I get new ideas and throw things out for them to try.Here, too, the male lead will be played by a guest artist, Joseph Jefferies, who danced with Wood at Ballet Memphis. Jefferies danced the part last year.Basically, The Nutcracker is The Nutcracker. Its about tradition.Something is comforting about seeing the same performance, Wood said. The tradition of it is comforting. We dont change it too dramatically every year because of that.