More dancing completes ‘Nutcracker’

Carl Massey and Kate Yates, starring as the Nutcracker Prince and Clara in Whidbey Dance Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” Saturday, look around at the dream world of the Snow Queen. - Matt Johnson
Carl Massey and Kate Yates, starring as the Nutcracker Prince and Clara in Whidbey Dance Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” Saturday, look around at the dream world of the Snow Queen.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Sitting in the audience at the start of the second act of Whidbey Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker” Saturday night, I have to admit to a feeling of deja vu.

After watching the first act — which was ably led by a graceful Carl Massey as the Nutcracker Prince and the fluid, buoyant work of Kate Yates as Clara — it almost felt like 2002 when the stage lights came back on after intermission. On stage as a couple were Katelyn Candelario and Philip Laue, the powerful dance duo that held the principal roles in last year’s production. For a few minutes, as I fumbled under my seat at the South Whidbey High School auditorium for my program, I lost track of who was who. Had Massey and Yates called it an evening and sent in their understudies? No: Laue was back to play a new role, the Forest King, while Candelario was on state as the Faerie Queen.

Though I can’t recommend doing such poor research prior to the show to others, I can say that my temporary confusion was pleasantly rewarded. WDT’s “Nutcracker” has grown up over the 10 seasons it has been on stage, and this year’s production only adds to its height as the show reaches what could be thought of as post adolescence.

After taking ownership of “The Nutcracker” by adding some innovative scenes during the past four seasons, WDT used this year’s show to fill in some of the gaps caused by earlier innovations. Thus, local “Nutcracker” fans will see more great ballet in almost every scene, including a soldier and rat battle scene with the largest armies yet, and the second-act scenes that take place in and around the enchanted forest. Particularly good was a new tie in for the show’s Sea Cave scene. Metaphorically adrift inside “The Nutcracker” plot since it was added to the show four years ago, the scene benefits greatly by having the Nutcracker Prince and Clara ride through the beautifully lit underwater world on a giant sea turtle.

Other aspects of the show to watch for include an imposing performance by Jon Transue as Godfather Drosselmeyer and the acrobatic dance work of former Clara Andrea Burr as the Rat King.

But what is most stunning about this show is the dancing done by the two principal couples, whose dance styles couldn’t differ more. Massey and Yates are tender together, moving with the controlled hesitancy of young lovers. They engage well with one another, which increases their watchability. However, as with some past princes and Claras, they do not maintain a solid, visual connection with the audience in all sections of the show.

On the other hand, Laue and Candelario are explosive in their dance. Their leaps are big, their lifts spectacular and their physical prowess as dancers is dominant throughout their scenes. And though they don’t generate the subtle innocence between them evident with Massey and Yates, it’s not really required of their characters. Building on the work they did together in last year’s production, they are sensuous and singularly engaging — although this latter quality is mostly Candelario’s doing. Having danced with WDT since grade school, the 17-year-old ballerina could well light up every row of spectators in the auditorium with her big eyes, bright smile and overall physical presence.

Together, both of the dancing couples fill out “The Nutcracker” in a manner long needed. None of the scenes can be said to drag. They — with the help of Snow Queen Alexis Daly, Flower Faerie Chelsea Matthews, Burr and Transue — make each scene exciting to watch. This year’s production speeds along compared to those in the past, leaving the audience still wanting more by show’s end.

The only place the dancing falls a bit short are one of the more crowded scenes, the Christmas Party. Here, the choreography seemed to become overburdened by the addition of a number of new dancers to the cast. The scene looses some of the swirling magic it has had in the past. However, this is something that is likely to get better with each show, as the dancers get to better know their steps.

Technically speaking, this production is mostly high key in terms of lighting. The show’s overall illumination has been pumped up a few hundred watts, giving the opening Christmas party scene a warm feel and the dance of the Snow Queen an icy brilliance that is both chilly and cheery. Sets used in this “Nutcracker” are the same or similar to those used during the past four shows. They are generally effective, although a retooling of the Enchanted Forest would be nice in 2004.

For “Nutcracker” aficionados and those new to the show, WDT has put together its best show yet. It is not something to be missed during the bustle of the holidays.

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