Arts and Entertainment

Whidbey Island's own ‘Nutcracker’

Misha Flem dances the magical part of the Doll while Grace Swanson, as Clara, looks on. The holiday classic returns to the South End on Dec. 5.   - Photo courtesy of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre
Misha Flem dances the magical part of the Doll while Grace Swanson, as Clara, looks on. The holiday classic returns to the South End on Dec. 5.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre

When Russian choreographer Marius Petipa collaborated with composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to create “The Nutcracker” ballet in 1892, the famous team were most likely oblivious to the global tradition the piece would become through the next

100 years and beyond.

Checking a Web site called nutcrackerballet.net and its show directory, there are currently 25 dance companies in Washington state listed — who knows how many are unlisted — producing “The Nutcracker” this season.

All 50 United States have performances of the ballet listed on the site, and if all 50 are comparable to Washington, that means there are at least 1,250 productions of “The Nutcracker” presently preparing to open in this country for this holiday season.

Indeed, the same Web site lists more than 10 countries with ticket information for the Christmas ballet.

Certainly the legacy of Petipa and Tchaikovsky has endured.

“The Nutcracker” will continue to provide holiday celebrations all over the world with its beloved tradition.

Close to home

Considering just how many productions are available to the public, what then could a maverick dance company on a smallish island in the Pacific Northwest do to make its production of “The Nutcracker” the one to watch?

“Every year, newcomers marvel at how joyous and spectacular our local production is,” said Susan Sandri, co-director of the Whidbey Island Dance Theatre.

“We change it every year to keep the Whidbey community excited about coming back annually.”

Tickets are already on sale for the company’s 16th annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which opens Friday, Dec. 5 and runs through Sunday,

Dec. 14 in the auditorium at South Whidbey High School in Langley.

Who needs to bother with ferry lines, inner city traffic and high ticket prices at city ballets?

More to the point is the community tradition the production creates.

Thousands of companies the world over create a tradition for their communities. So, too, the Whidbey Island Dance Theatre provides an entertaining tradition for families here, while the community, in its turn, supports local art.

But just because the company hails from a small island, its talents are by no means small.

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre is a member of Regional Dance America, the juried national association of ballet companies. Beyond its performances in more than a dozen cities in the Puget Sound region, the company has danced in Salt Lake City, Utah, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., Tucson, Ariz. and at the 2007 National Dance Festival in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Sandri and co-director Charlene Brown said the company’s existence depends on the support of local fans.

“So we keep delivering new treats and tidbits to keep our ‘Nutcracker’ fresh. If someone hasn’t attended in two or more years, they haven’t seen it,” Sandri said.

New this year are several 9-feet-tall, hand-painted silk swallowtail costumes.

Also new in the realm of creature fun are dragonflies who will be harassed by a frog quartet.

The famous Christmas Eve party at the Stahlbaum house will feature all new Victorian gowns for the women and girls, with the elegant Herr Drosselmeyer sporting a new tuxedo with tails.

Brand-new also will be the costumes of the Snow Queen and King, the Rose Faerie and the Nutcracker prince, while the Nutcracker himself will be wearing a new head on his shoulders.

And don’t forget the added bonus of seeing a familiar face or two on stage.

Dancing clan

How many Rookstools does it take to produce the Nutcracker?

A gaggle of course, and only the Rookstool family have enough children who dance to even form a gaggle.

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre is lucky to have one of Whidbey’s most prolific families participating in its program.

Of the 10 children in the Rookstool brood, five will be on stage for this year’s production.

Their mother, Laura Rookstool, is proud of her children and their talents.

“My husband Bob and I love watching the children on stage,” Rookstool said. “We are lucky to have at least one child in almost every scene! The fun, excitement and hard work they experience through dance, especially during Nutcracker season, brings us great joy.”

Kevin, 16, Emily, 14, Katie Alice, 13, Abigail, 10, and Grace, 8, will perform various roles in the famous Christmas ballet while siblings Luke, 6, Isabel, 4, and Jonathan, 1, sit and enjoy the show with the rest of the family.

Kevin Rookstool is emphatic when he tells you he’s not a dancer. That statement begs the question, how did he come to be playing four parts in the show?

“My sister’s friends talked me into it,” Kevin admitted.

Like many dance companies during the Nutcracker season, Emily said the company is always in need of boys.

“Me and my friends kind of ganged up on him until he said yes,” she said.

Talent galore

It’s lucky for Whidbey Island Dance Theatre to have boys willing to say yes. But it’s even luckier that island audiences have their very own, brimming-with-talent “Nutcracker” to attend.

Sandri and Brown said they are extremely excited to welcome back Minneapolis dancer Ben Koehl in the role of the prince.

The 20-year-old Koehl danced the part of the Forest King last year. This year, he will dance the parrot pas de deux and the snow pas de deux, as well as multiple scenes as the Nutcracker Prince.

Partnered with Koehl, dancing the role of Clara this year, is soloist Grace Swanson, while last year’s Clara, gifted dancer Raelani McLean Kesler, will lend her exquisite talents to the part of the Snow Queen.

Other leading roles include Graham Vanderwood as the Nutcracker, Jachen Mackner as the Rat King, Amy Arand as the Rose Faerie and Jon Transue as Herr Drosselmeyer.

Professional dancer Jennifer Elder will dance the role of the Faerie Queen and will join choreographer and dancer Daniel Wilkins in the Sugarplum grand pas de deux. Both Elder and Wilkins dance professionally with DASSdance of Seattle and New York City, N.Y.

The Rookstool children said it’s a lot of hours in rehearsal but, in the end, it’s worth it.

“We’ve got the parts down and now we’re trying to get it perfect,” Kevin said.

“It’s fun; working with my friends and getting to see each other dressed up and act like goofs. And when I have to put on makeup, everybody gets a big laugh out of that.”

Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13, and matinee performances are at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14.

Tickets are $20 for adults; $18 for seniors; and $15 for youths.

Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 341-2221 or Click here.

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