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Nutcracker

Katelyn Candelario, 17, a senior principal dancer with Whidbey Dance Theatre performing the role of the Snow Queen rehearses a Pas de Deux with guest artist Bryon Brill, 19, at Island Dance studios this week. This is Candelario’s fifth and possibly final “Nutcracker” performance with the company as she will graduate from South Whidbey High School in June.  - Cynthia Woolbright
Katelyn Candelario, 17, a senior principal dancer with Whidbey Dance Theatre performing the role of the Snow Queen rehearses a Pas de Deux with guest artist Bryon Brill, 19, at Island Dance studios this week. This is Candelario’s fifth and possibly final “Nutcracker” performance with the company as she will graduate from South Whidbey High School in June.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

If someone is found wandering behind the stage during a performance of Whidbey Dance Theatre’s 12th production of “The Nutcracker,” it will probably be Katelyn Candelario.

It is there the petite 17-year-old ballerina has so often taken a moment between scene transitions to listen to the onstage activity and relish in a few more seconds of music.

It is in the moments before dashing back to the dressing room for a costume change or onto the stage for the next number that dance so vividly through her head.

But with the opening curtain this year’s “Nutcracker” Dec. 3, those moments will be few and far between.

“This might be the hardest role I’ve ever had in the Nutcracker, Candelario said in the midst of dance rehearsals last week. “I’ve danced almost every part, but it’s going to be hard knowing it’s my final year.”

Candelario, along with Coupeville resident Alexis Daly, 17, are both five-year veteran dancers for Whidbey Dance Theatre. They have become familiar faces to South Whidbey audiences and integral to the Regional Dance America recognized company.

They will meet high school graduation in June as a crossroads in their dance careers. This “Nutcracker” season, they will step on stage, and along with a cast of close to 100 other dancers, present a vivid celebration of not just one year’s worth of rehearsals, but a lifetime of dedication and work.

“The Nutcracker” will be filled with more than 155 colorful characters performed by the company’s principals, in addition to guest artists and a supporting cast ranging in age from 6 to 80.

Principal dancer Chelsea Matthews, 15, will portray young heroine, Clara. This will be Matthews’ sixth WDT “Nutcracker.” Previously, she has danced as a mermaid, a snowflake and the Flower Faerie in the production.

“It’s going to be fun,” Matthews said. “I’m looking forward to being able to bring Clara to life on stage.”

Matthews performed in South Whidbey High School’s musical production “Bye, Bye Birdie” last spring and trained with Ballet Bellevue last summer.

Jon Transue will return as Herr Drosselmeyer, Whidbey Dance Theatre guest artist Carl Massey returns as the Nutcracker prince and other supporting roles, Josette Serrill will be causing mischief as the Rat King, and guest artist Alexa Kovalik will perform as the Flower Faerie. Candelario will mark her final “Nutcracker” in the role of the Snow Queen, as well as other supporting roles. Daly will reprise her role as the Faerie Queen to close her WDT career. Making his Whidbey Dance Theatre stage premiere will be guest artist Bryon Brill, 19, an emerging professional dancer who has trained with Ballet Bellevue and numerous programs around the country. Brill will partner with both Candelario and Daly for Pas de Deux performances as the Snow King and Forest King.

Both Candelario and Daly — former Claras themselves — have danced since they were barely able to walk and are already used to the dancer’s life. As senior principal dancers with Whidbey Dance Theatre they are required to attend a minimum of seven dance classes per week at Island Dance — most principals take 10. Since August “Nutcracker” has added an additional eight hours of rehearsal time each week. On top of this, they are full time students.

“They’ve had to make a decision at sometime to give up things along the way,” said Susan Sandri, Whidbey Dance Theatre artistic director. “Dance is a commitment all year, not like a 12 week season with some sports.”

During their young careers both girls have put in additional training hours outside of Island Dance.

Candelario has trained with the Pacific Chamber Ballet, International Youth Ballet, at the Boston Ballet Dance Lab and with the American Ballet Theatre summer program. She has been accepted to programs with the Kirov Ballet Academy, the San Fransisco Ballet and Ballet Austin. Previous “Nutcracker” years have seen her dance the roles of the Faerie Queen and Clara two years ago, as well as supporting roles.

For the last two years, she has also been a cheerleader during the football season and holds a 3.7 grade-point average at South Whidbey High School.

“It’s definitely hard. You can’t have a job like your friends,” Candelario said. “Dance separates you from everything because you spend so much time doing it.”

Daly has been on the dance floor since she was 5 years old and has trained with Pacific Northwest Ballet School before joining WDT. She’s been accepted to programs with the Joffrey Ballet, Kirov Academy, Pacific Northwest Ballet and the American Ballet Theater summer program.

With a 3.974 GPA at Coupeville High School, she is a National Honor Society member who is considering attending the University of Montana at Missoula to major in Zoology and minor in dance.

For the senior dancers the “Nutcracker” is a milestone and a grand finale to their careers with Whidbey Dance Theatre.

“They are emerging professionals. This is the time in their lives they decide what they will do and how much dance will be a part of their lives,” Sandri said. “This is when they audition for companies and see where they fit.”

Because of their hard work and that of countless others, Whidbey Dance Theatre’s production has become one of the premiere Nutcrackers in the Puget Sound area.

“It’s a show where you can take everyone from great-grandmothers to three-year-olds to it,” Sandri said. “It’s so engrossing and there’s something there for everyone to live.”

For years, Whidbey Dance Theatre has broke away from tradition by offering a twist on the classic “Nutcracker” tale. While the original has Clara traveling through a sweets induced dreamland filled with sugarplums, Whidbey Dance Theatre takes audiences through an enchanted forest where everything from dragons, butterflies and faeries roam.

“It’s so different from anything out there and colorful to watch people can’t help but sit up in their seats,” Candelario said.

Every year, Whidbey Dance Theater works to further update the story, the dancing and ellaborate in every detail of the show, according to Sandri. More costumes are created, more characters written into the choreography and each scene is examined before many are reworked.

“It’s not standard, it stretches your imagination with faeries, firebrids and dragons - it I was a little kid I’d want to watch,” Daly said.

Act one remains with the familiar living room scene and visit from the mysterious Herr Drossellmeyer. The mice and toy soliders will still play when everyone is asleep.

Its non-traditional approach to the second act allows the company to utilize some of its best dancers whose specialties go beyond ballet in the multi-discipline company.

A cast of favorites returns including Charlene Brown as a spry Uncle Nevel and J.T. Madsen a towering Madame Bumble. The cast of neighbors and friends, many of whom also happen to be worldclass performers is what makes the WDT production so accessible, according to Sandri.

“The audience is able to see people they’ve seen at the grocery store or on the street, only they are transformed magnificently by these splendid costumes, music and movement in this idealic situation,” she said. “Everything is so beautiful and it’s people that you know so there’s already that connection.”

When nervous jitters to perform on cue set in, and the realization this will be the seniors’ final “Nutcracker” — it will help having all those familiar smiles on stage Daly said.

“I’m going to cherish this and really show people what this production is about and what I am capable of as a dancer,” Daly said. “I’d like to leave people on a high note.”

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