Arts and Entertainment

Local ‘Nutcracker’ wows ’em again | Lorinda Kay gives the review

Grace Swanson as the Rose Faerie, Sayaka Yokota as the Faerie Queen, Avery Grant as the Snow Queen and Juliana Brielle Nolen as Clara in Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s 17th annual production of “The Nutcracker.” - Michael Stadler photo
Grace Swanson as the Rose Faerie, Sayaka Yokota as the Faerie Queen, Avery Grant as the Snow Queen and Juliana Brielle Nolen as Clara in Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s 17th annual production of “The Nutcracker.”
— image credit: Michael Stadler photo

Visually stunning and with dance performances beautifully articulated, this year’s “Nutcracker” dazzles as the ultimate Christmas season must-see.

If you haven’t seen Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s annual performance for awhile, don’t miss it this year. The 17th annual “Nutcracker” has matured to a grand experience with talent, sets, costumes and special effects that will captivate young and old alike. This production is well-deserving of the standing ovation it received at the curtain call on Saturday night of opening weekend.

Such praise is due in large part to the fact that all of the principal dancers have exactly what it takes to command their roles.

Juliana Brielle Nolen, as Clara, is not only a lovely dancer, but an expressive actress who brings her role to life.

The same is true of the enchanting and delightful Grace Swanson as the Rose Faerie, and Avery Grant as the Snow Queen. Their joy is absolutely contagious, and creates veritable gardens and snowstorms of balletic magic while Sayaka Yokota, who radiates a regal grace as the Faerie Queen, would delight the most discerning ballet-lover, so absolutely superb is her performance.

Guest artist Benjamin Koehl, who dances the role of the Forest and Snow King, personifies perfection.

Koehl embodies his role with a personality and ability befitting such a king in this magical land. His pas de deux with Yokota and again with Grant would meet any professional standard. His caring and support for his partners translates to the audience, while his youth and talent make him perfect for the role.

In Graham Vanderwood, we have found our prince; our Nutcracker prince that is. He is confident, capable and athletic. A wonderful blend in so young a prince, who we have watched grow-up in our own community.

All the familiar and beloved characters are present throughout the show, including the tumbling bears and elves, woodland faries, firebirds, pixies and forest creatures. But when the swallowtail butterflies stepped onstage, one young audience member expressed out loud what the rest of the audience must have felt. The well-dressed swallowtails created such a beautifully stunning stage picture, that it made one want to cry out in delight.

The only bump in WIDT’s production was the pause in music and lighting at the opening of the sea-cave scene. Because the audience is transported so thoroughly to this underwater world, the interruption was a bit disappointing.

Still, the journey undersea is colorfully imaginative with iridescent fish, dancing mermaids with large silver pearls and a delightful sea turtle that kindly transports Clara and the Prince. Once the small technical problems are fixed, the fantasy of this underwater scene will be complete.

Next, the audience hears a crescendo of music and the waltz of the flowers captivates you, and you hope never to be released from its spell. A young girl’s dream of the beautiful world of ballet, with its softly flowing dresses, is fulfilled here. The whole company, from the youngest to the most mature dancer, performed it beautifully.

One never tires of the large-skirted Madame Bumble, and the butterflies and bees, danced charmingly by the youngest of the “Nutcracker” stars.

As the story comes to a close, we see the Rat King, performed deftly by Emily Rookstool, pull Clara out of the enchantment of the faerie world, and she is transported safely back to reality by her uncle, Herr Drosslemeyer, played with grandeur by Lars Larsen.

But the enchantment never fades for the audience. Perhaps this is why the “Nutcracker” has been such a success throughout the years, with its combination of sweet children, accomplished young dancers, magnificent music by Tchaikovsky and a story that delights just about everyone.

Certainly our local production continues to bring more magic and artistry to the stage every year. Hats off to the consistent labor of love from artistic directors Charlene Brown and Susan Campbell Sandri, whose talent and professionalism have nurtured this production to it’s apex.

To all the many performers, volunteers and creative and talented folks who bring this stellar production to our community every year, it is one of the finest gifts a community can receive.

Is it the best production of “The Nutcracker” ever? You need to go see it, and judge for yourself.

“The Nutcracker” plays at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18 and 19, and at 2 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20. Advanced tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for youths, $18 for seniors. Tickets are $20 at the door. Call the box office at 341-2221 or click here.

Professional quality photos of the performers are available for purchase at the performances, or by e-mailing L. Bennett Nolen at


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