Arts and Entertainment

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre presents ‘The Nutcracker’ dressed in all its holiday color and charm

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre
Whidbey Island Dance Theatre's Elliauna Madsen as Clara reaches for the coveted nutcracker, a gift from Godfather Drosselmeyer played by Lars Larsen in the local production of 'The Nutcracker.'
— image credit: Michael Stadler photo

Nineteen and counting.

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s 19th season of “The Nutcracker” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 in the auditorium at South Whidbey High School.

Co-director and choreographer Susan Campbell Sandri said this year’s famous Christmas ballet, set to the charming music of Tchaikovsky’s beloved “Nutcracker Suite,” has a few exciting surprises added to the yearly extravaganza that invites more than 50 guest artists to join the company dancers.

“Our loyal fans will be surprised to see Godfather Drosselmeyer’s amazing new abilities this year. Look for him in new places,” she said.

“There are also new faces and characters in the ‘Living Room,’ new costumes in ‘Snow’ and all new choreography ‘Underwater,’” Sandri added.

Sandri said the ballet blends traditional and imaginative new choreography to tell the tale of Clara’s enchanted Christmas Eve when her mysterious godfather’s magic leads her into a wonderland of fantasies. Clara journeys to lands where snowflakes and flowers dance; where fairies, mermaids and even a dragon perform. And, of course in the end, a handsome prince comes to her rescue.

The role is a dream for every young dancer, and this year 16-year-old South Whidbey High School junior Elliauna Madsen gets to dance the role of Clara.

Madsen began her dance studies at age 3 and became a member of the Whidbey Island Dance Theatre company in the seventh grade. She now claims the company rank of soloist in ballet and as a principal in contemporary dance.

Madsen said the role of Clara requires strong acting skills in addition to sharp dancing skills and her main goal is to embody the character of Clara in everything she does onstage.

“I don’t want to be boring, so I’ve been working on changing it up,” Madsen said.

“You really just have to keep the emotion in your face and your body at the same time, because if you don’t, it just looks awkward.”

Madsen will also dance the part of the Flower Faerie, which is one of her favorite parts.

“It’s more soft and relaxed. It’s kind of fun to just act pretty, basically. It’s a good contrast to what is happening before that,” she said, referring to her scene in which she must battle not-so-nice mice.

“I’m afraid of the mice,” Madsen said. At least that is the acting part that has been her biggest challenge. Be afraid of the mice without repeating yourself, she said.

“It’s really important to know how to act,” she added.

The snow scene is another favorite section for the dancer.

“I like doing difficult things and that scene is very hard. It’s a good challenge and it’s intense. I like it,” Madsen said.

Madsen’s Nutcracker prince is Ty Molbak, whose first ballet role was Frederick in the company’s 2006 production of the Christmas ballet. At that time, Molbak’s New Orleans family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and had come to live with his island grandparents. Molbak is now a pre-professional, Los Angeles-based dancer and Sandri said she is thrilled to have him back on the Whidbey Island stage.

Several alumni of the company, who went on to professional careers in dance and elsewhere, return this year to the production including Chelsea Matthews-Jensen as the Snow Queen, Avery Grant as the Faerie Queen, Brittany Falso as a demi-soloist and Snowflake, Nicole Falso as the mermaid and Rat demi-soloist and Graham Vanderwood as the Nutcracker. Lars Larsen returns as Godfather Drosselmeyer and Jennifer Bondelid will play Aunt.

Madsen said of all the dancers who’ve returned she’s particularly excited about alumna Katelyn Candelario, who will dance in the snow scene and as a flower.

“I looked up to her when I was little,” Madsen said.

“I still think she’s amazing. She’s really good at portraying what she’s trying to show and has a really unique way of moving.”

Those who will help these dancers highlight the best of their gifts are the choreographers. They include artistic director Charlene Brown and artistic director Sandri, with guest choreographers Bondelid, Leigh-Anne Cohen-Hafford, Matthews-Jensen, Susan Vanderwood and Graham Vanderwood.

Whidbey Island’s remarkable talent pool of artists are brilliantly reflected in this production with elaborate sets and props by Whidbey designers and painters Mary Ellen O’Connor and Gary and Tarey Kay. Sumptuous costumes are by local fabric artists, including Class Act Tutus, Tarey Kay of Tarey Togs, Aloria Lanshaw of Scattered Threads, with masks by Dayna Antognini, Kris Schricker, O’Connor and Diana Shirley. Special effects are by Whidbey residents and Hollywood professionals Ray Brown and Bob Rigg.

The ballet will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 10 and 16, 17 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 10, 11 and 17, 18.

Advance tickets are $22 for adults, $15 for children 17 and younger, and $20 for seniors. Tickets are $22 for everyone at the door and are available at the WIDT box office at Ken’s Korner Mall, at Whidbey Coffee kiosks in Clinton and Freeland and by calling 341-2221. Visit www.widtonline.org for details.

Box office hours are from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Reduced price performances are Friday, Dec. 9 and the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 at $15 each. Visa and Mastercard are accepted.

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