BY RECORD STAFF
Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s beloved holiday production of “The Nutcracker” has been delighting audiences since its first performance in 1991.
Parents, their children and now their grandchildren have enjoyed the show every year and have watched in amazement as it has grown and improved each year.
Charlene Brown, artistic director for all of its 20 years, recalls the first show, which in fact was only half of “The Nutcracker.”
“We left out the first act,” she said. It was held in the old Langley Middle School auditorium.
“The lights always went out when they plugged in the coffee pot in the hallway,” Brown said with a laugh. Inevitably, one or more dancers would be suspended in the air when the darkness hit, but no damage was done.
The LMS facility hosted The Nutcracker for five years before it moved to the new South Whidbey High School Performing Arts Center in 1997.
The enchanting Christmas ballet, set to Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” is perhaps one of the most well-known and recognized ballets throughout the world.
This year’s 20th anniversary edition inspired new choreography and time-honored traditional choreography which all blend to stage the tale of Clara’s enchanted Christmas Eve … upon which her mysterious Godfather’s gift of a wooden Nutcracker doll, mixed with a little magic, leads to extraordinary things.
Clara travels to lands where snowflakes and flowers dance; where fairies, mermaids, even a dragon perform, and a handsome prince comes to her rescue. WIDT’s unique production of Act I centers around a magical fireplace, that develops into a breathtaking snow cave, which then turns into a castle in the enchanted forest of Act II.
Over 50 guest artists and community dancers join WIDT company dancers in order to stage “The Nutcracker.” Whether you’ve come to a show in the past, or you’ve attended every year, Brown said that this is the show to see.
“The choreographers and dancers have really come together to make our 20th season truly spectacular,” said Brown.
Nutcracker fans never see the exact same show twice. “We love to change it up every year — the community wants something fresh,” Brown said. Last year “seven beautiful dancing mermaids” were introduced. They’ll be back this year, but the one merman who appeared last year isn’t so lucky. “He didn’t go over so well,” Brown said.
This year marks exciting new changes to both the organization and the production. Brown has a new assistant artistic director in company alumna Amy (Berto) Lehman.
Lehman grew up taking dance class under Brown’s tutelage, was an original company member of WIDT, and danced in WIDT’s very first Nutcracker.
“I’ve been with Charlene since I was 4 years old,” Lehman said. “I wouldn’t have ever though that we’d be working together.”
Brown has been at the helm of “The Nutcracker” every year since it began. In fact “The Nutcracker” wouldn’t have taken place on Whidbey at all if it wasn’t for an off-handed conversation that took place between Brown and fellow faculty member, Jan Burrow, all those years ago. Thankfully the first year was successful, and “The Nutcracker” has since turned into a wintertime delight on Whidbey Island, drawing audiences from all over the region.
Brown’s productions are noted for their originality and surprises. Where else, she asks, can a viewer see “bumblebees and butterflies come out from under a dress — they steal the show.”
New changes to the production include brand new choreography in several scenes, including the Snow Journey, Waltz of the Flowers, and Mermaid/Sea Cave. Helen Wilkins, Danielle Wilkins, and Daniel Wilkins, all of Edmonds, have lent their creative minds to contribute brand new choreography to the production. They join island choreographers Jamee Pitts, Susan Vanderwood, Graham Vanderwood, Chelsea Matthews-Jensen, Jennifer Bondelid, Asharaine Machala, and Charlene Brown. Machala, who has been the company’s artistic director in years past, was the original mastermind behind WIDT’s unique Act II “Forest Scene.”
Brown said this year’s audiences are sure to be impressed by the Wilkins clan, which challenged the dancers. “They drip with sweat in the rehearsals,” she said. “But their snow storm is really beautiful; it looks like a snowstorm of bodies.”
Dancing the role of Clara this year is South Whidbey High School junior, and WIDT company member, Madyson Hunter. Graham Vanderwood, who has danced the role of the Nutcracker Soldier for multiple years, will dance it once again, and continue on to transform into the Nutcracker Prince. Audience favorite Lars Larson is back in his revered role as Clara’s Godfather Drosselmeyer. Powerhouse dancer and SWHS freshman Melyssa Smith plays the acrobatic Rat King. Professional dancer Dade Glaser, from Seattle, will return to dance the role of the Snow King, partnered with WIDT Company member, SWHS senior Elliauna Madsen as the Snow Queen (who Whidbey audiences will remember from dancing the role of Clara last year). The Forest King and Queen will be danced by Seattle-area professionals Bojohn Diciple and WIDT alumna Katelyn (Candelario) Lodell. The Rose Faerie is double-cast this year by two WIDT alumnae, Brittany Falso and Chelsea Matthews-Jensen. Lodell, Falso and Matthews-Jensen are all alumni of the dance company and have all gone on to pursue professional dance careers in the Seattle area. Long-time audiences will remember Lodell as playing Clara in 2002 and the Faerie Queen in 2010, Matthews-Jensen as Clara in 2004 and the Snow Queen in 2011, and Falso as the Faerie Queen in 2006.
A total of 11 alumni have returned to dance in the 20th anniversary season. Katelyn (Candelario) Lodell, a long-time favorite with local audiences who performed with WIDT from 1999-2004, is taking time from her professional dancing with DASS Dance and 3rd Shift Dance to once again perform with the company. Additional alums include: local pilates businesswoman Nicole Falso as the bear, mama mouse and a faerie; Jennifer Bondelid as an aunt and choreographer; Karla (Gilbert) Crouch as a faerie; Brittany Falso as a snowflake, mermaid and Rose Faerie; Chelsea Matthews-Jensen as a snowflake, mermaid, Rose Faerie and choreographer; Raelani Kesler as a snowflake, mermaid and flower; Assistant A.D. Amy (Berto) Lehman as an aunt; Halla Miller as a faerie, swallowtail and flower; Christine Monaghan as a snowflake, mermaid, swallowtail and flower; and Sayaka Yokota as a snowflake, mermaid, faerie princess and flower.
Whidbey Island Dance Theatre is a nonprofit that seeks to be a cultural resource for the community, while providing dancers the opportunity for artistic growth and achievement by adhering to the highest standards of technique, choreography and production.