By GRACE SWANSON
Special for The Record
As the well-known Tchaikovsky music filled the air and the stage lights brightened, I felt as though an old friend had returned for the holidays. Last Friday, the Whidbey Island Dance Theatre (WIDT) Nutcracker brought magic to Whidbey Island for the 24th year. New choreography, costumes, and dancers provided a new twist to this island holiday favorite.
Young talent was evident throughout the production.
Seventeen-year-old South Whidbey High School student Alexa Varga played a sweet and beautiful Clara and her partner Zane Vanderwood, the Nutcracker Prince, had great stage presence. Guest artist and Seattle resident Bojohn Diciple was both animated and humorous, the perfect combination for the part of Clara’s whimsical uncle Drosselmeyer. The Rat Queen played by 16-year-old Coupeville resident Skyylynn Lippo added a feminine element to the part which was originally the Rat King. Her choreography incorporated both classical and contemporary dance styles, which was a pleasing addition. The incorporation of varying techniques — classical ballet, modern dance, tap dancing, and acrobats — is unique to the WIDT Nutcracker. The Rat Queen’s light up mask and new costume worked well with the updated character.
The new living room scene choreography was very entertaining. Whether kooky Great Uncle Neville was trying to flirt with the maid, families were waltzing across the stage, or two dolls were coming to life and performing a dance, there’s always something to watch.
The Snow Journey was breathtaking. Fifteen-year-old Brontë Patty-Caldwell, the snow queen, and her partner guest artist Dade Glaser, the snow king, made a series of complicated lifts and turns appear effortless during their Pas de Deux. The Snowflakes’ steps were crisp and precise. When snow begins to fall on the stage, one almost forgets about the lack of snow on this green island.
The mermaids’ aerial fabric routine of splits and arches was awe-inspiring. The lively tumbling elves were a crowd pleaser with their flips and comedic banter. The Enchanted Forest featured a myriad of adorable critters, including bluebirds, frogs, buttercups, and mushrooms. The co-artistic directors Charlene Brown and Brittany Falso’s decision to include additional roles in this production offered more dancers a chance to shine.
In the Waltz of the Flowers elegant Rose Faerie Holley Johnson danced around a colorful entourage of graceful flowers. The arrangement of dancers and the combination of movements made this waltz one of the best I’ve seen.
Diciple, who has been performing in the WIDT Nutcracker for four years, also played the Forest King and choreographed the Grand Pas De Deux. His choreography included contemporary twists and modern dance moves that aren’t typical in the classical ballet version. His partner 14-year-old Faerie Queen Tessa Sherman was confident and relaxed when dancing with Diciple. Partner-dancing can be daunting for both dancers, which shows Sherman’s maturity at such a young age.
Familiar faces returned to the stage. Frank O’Brochta returned for his 17th Nutcracker and his 16th year as the part of the grandfather. JT Madsen has been playing the role of Madame Bumble for 15 years. His joy, along with the endearing little Bees and Butterflies, has prompted audience members to clap along with the music for the last decade. Crazy but beloved Uncle Neville, played by Freeland resident Danny Ward, was as amusing as ever.
Returning WIDT alumnae Katelyn Lodell, Chelsea Matthews-Jensen, Brittany Falso, and Jamee Pitts incorporated new steps into their choreography and were also inspired by their experiences in past Nutcrackers. Their perspectives acted as a bridge between the old and the new.
There were some stumbles and nerves, but this is common during opening night shows.
Generations of dancers have grown up in WIDT’s Nutcracker. As the well-known melodies fill the theater and the joy of dancing radiates across the dancers’ faces, you realize why this production is so vital to this community and why people return year after year.
Editor’s note: Grace has been a dancer for 15 years and danced in many WIDT Nutcrackers. She’s also a former editorial intern at The Record and is currently majoring in journalism at the University of Washington. This winter, she will be covering the 2017 Washington State Legislative Session for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.