“The Nutcracker,” where Whidbey Island dancers make beauty, grace, snowflakes, mice, and rehearsal look effortless

Dancers rehearse a piece from Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Nutcracker.”

Beauty, power, grace, elegance and speed: the list of ways to describe the company of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre goes on while a select group of dancers rehearsed.

A couple dozen girls twirled, leaped, knelt, flapped, twirled some more, arched their backs and high-kicked their legs to seemingly inhuman heights in preparation of the Langley-based troupe’s 23rd production of “The Nutcracker.” Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Dec. 11-20 at South Whidbey High School.

The beloved Christmas tale of a girl, Clara, receiving a magical Nutcracker that becomes a prince who battles the Mouse King, before they travel to a forest, the Land of Sweets, and foreign lands as dignitaries before returning home and waking up from the dream. Michael Stadler photography

Dozens of student dancers at Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, the non-profit arm that operates in the same space as Island Dance in Langley, are responsible for being snowflakes, flowers, Christmas partygoers, mice, soldiers, and foreign performers welcoming Clara and the prince.

No matter their role, the commitment is nearly all-consuming, a handful of dancers said.

“This is our life,” said 14-year-old Niki Greene of Langley, who has performed in “Nutcracker” for the past decade.

Added six-year “Nutcracker” dancer Gavie Ewart, 14: “It’s blended into us where we don’t not think about (dance).”

Backing up their statements, 14-year-old Jessie Johnson of Coupeville said the winter holidays take a proverbial backseat to the show for the students in the dance company.

“It’s not Christmas season, it’s ‘Nutcracker’ season,” she said.

For the past month, weekends have been occupied with rehearsals from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The girls agreed that between 10 and 16 hours per week are spent dancing, plus at least another 10 on the weekends. Such a commitment is similar to playing for competitive, select sport teams, the handful of girls said.

All of the rehearsals are expected to pay off when the curtains rise in December. They must be coordinated enough to move in sync during large pieces with a dozen or more performers on stage at South Whidbey High School. They must be strong enough to bound to similar heights and hold their long, graceful poses. And they must always remember to smile.

Michael Stadler photographyDuring a recent rehearsal of the flowers, choreographer Brittany Falso reminded the two dozen dancers to smile, saying that the musical number and accompanying ballet were the most joyous pieces in the show.

Falso is a vigilant hawk in the rehearsal studio. Bound by wall-length mirrors on two walls, she can see almost every angle of each movement of every dancer. Slight, imperceptible mistakes or off-timed moves are noticed, and promptly corrected faster than one of the girls could perform a single pirouette.

That’s not to say she squawks at the dancers — quite the opposite. With a voice as delicate as a ballerina’s pointe shoe, she reinforces proper form, technique, and emotion.

“Always run like a ballerina,” she said as some dancers scurried off the floor.

Similar to theater, conveying emotion through a look and movement requires exaggeration and consistency. Four-year company dancer Megan LeMay, 17, of Oak Harbor said the whole point of ballet done well is to demonstrate joy, sorrow and longing to the farthest seat in the crowd.

“Your emotion is on your sleeves at all times,” she said.

Added Greene: “They want you to work super hard but make it look effortless.”

Sticking through the bruises, bumps, spills and hundreds of hours of rehearsals is worth it, a group of the dancers said. As they age and improve their moves, they get different and more challenging roles, which a handful of the snowflakes said was a major appeal for them to come back. For the ballet uninitiated, think of it like leveling up in a video game, or reaching the postseason in a sport — it’s all based on achievement and advancement.

“The Nutcracker,” the tale of a girl experiencing a transformation overnight, going on a wondrous journey and taking in the delightful dancing of others, is just the kind of night Whidbey Island Dance Theatre would like its guests to have this season.

Crack into a world of wonder with WIDT

Whidbey Island Dance Theatre resumes its long-running winter tradition of putting on the holiday classic ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

A girl gets a magical nutcracker that battles an army of mice, defeats the mouse king, becomes a prince, who whisks her away on a trip to the Land of Sweets and other enchanted places filled with dance.

Choreographed by Whidbey’s own Brittany Falso, the new pieces have something to keep the production fresh, while the classics of Tchaikovsky’s score and story remain.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Shows begin Friday, Dec. 11 and wrap Sunday, Dec. 20.

There is also a character brunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.

Other themed nights are planned. Family Night lowers all ticket prices to $17 for the 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11 opening. An Ugly Christmas Sweater Night is set for the 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 performance.

Advance tickets cost $20 for general admission, $17 for seniors, military members, and children 17 and younger. Buying tickets at the door costs $24 for adults and $22 for seniors, military members and children younger than 12.

Tickets for the character brunch cost $15 for adults and $10 for youths 12 and younger.

Purchases may be made online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2304413.

The theater group is also inviting patrons to send a child to “The Nutcracker,” by donating money for families in financial hardship. More information about the offer can be found online at widtonline.org.