‘Nutcracker’ warms up winter with vibrant dance

Madame Bumble (J.T. Madsen) floats high above a ring of tiny dancers in a scene from Whidbey Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker” which continues this week. - Cynthia Woolbright
Madame Bumble (J.T. Madsen) floats high above a ring of tiny dancers in a scene from Whidbey Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker” which continues this week.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Outside it was Sunday afternoon — still daylight outside, still South Whidbey, still no snow, and still not the Victorian era. But inside the South Whidbey High School auditorium, the transformation into the fantasy of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker” had begun.

Whidbey Dance Theatre opened its 12th season of “The Nutcracker” last weekend and brought a warm glow to a dreary winter day.

The story begins with a vision of a Victorian Christmas of long ago. The sky-high sets are the perfect backdrop to the introductory scene, a warm gathering of family and friends. Great Uncle Neville (Charlene Brown) proves to be comic relief with his bumbling tendencies, jolly belly and wild beard and hair.

That evening, Clara (Chelsea Matthews) receives a nutcracker from her godfather Drosselmeyer (Jon Transue) and thus begins a wildly fantastic journey for her, and the audience.

Later that evening the rat king (Josette Serrill) emerges from the fireplace, along with mice and rats that are cute as a button. Their appearance is a signal of the fantasy that is about to begin. The war between the toy soliders and the mice and rats is a delight. Audience members couldn’t help but smile at the rats caught in a trap who are gleeful about winning the cheese.

Clara and the Nutcracker prince (Carl Massey) follow the rat king into the fireplace and emerge in a candy-colored enchanted forest that is a bright, beautiful land where playful creatures live.

Many of the scene and set transitions are done in the open, but not distracting from the flow and brilliance of what is presented to the audience next.

What is on stage is not to be missed. The nontraditional take on the “Nutcracker” storyline has allowed Whidbey Dance Theatre to showcase some of its best nonballet dancers to the best of their abilities. Everything is sky-high and indulgently over the top in Whidbey Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker.” From tumbling elves to the bustier on Madame Bumble, everything is riding high and riding on high intensity energy.

Artistic directors Charlene Brown and Susan Campbell Sandri have spared no detail in the elaborate production.

The costumes created for “Nutcracker” are vibrant, rich and flow beautifully throughout the dance numbers of the production.

In its usual break from tradition, the Whidbey Dance Theatre “Nutcracker” travels under the sea. Mermaids dancing with pearls is not typically part the “Nutcracker” storyline, but is nonetheless intrugingly fun. And the seaweed twirls are enough to have the girls trying out next week for Cirque de Soleil.

Both of the queens of this production are enchanting. Forest Queen Alexis Daly was light as air, while Katelyn Candelario was flawless as the Snow Queen. Both bring the art of ballet to life.

The Grand Pas de Deuxs were lovely and added technical depth to other, more showy numbers that only skimmed the surface. However, the back to back lifts with the Forest Queen and King almost seemed too much of a muscle showing.

The lone flaw in the production is that it pauses. It is too good to stop. From the opening curtain, the transitions are delayed and distracting. Just when the joy of seeing this vibrant dance on stage fills the audience, there is a wait until the next scene change and the momentum is lost.

But before anyone has time to catch their breath, every creature that Clara encountered on her journey flashes past and the story soon comes to an end (a little under two hours later).

Through to the final transition the production leaves audiences wanting more. There’s more this weekend, and it should not be missed.

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