A young girl, clutching a wooden Christmas nutcracker, dreams of finding her prince, while witnessing a battle scene of red-suited soldiers repelling a squadron of attacking mice, dancing with her prince through a landscape of snow and tall evergreens, then on through a magical forest filled with pixies and sprites, rabbits and deer (even a skunk).
It’s a narrative that has become a beloved ballet through decades, including 26 years on South Whidbey.
Envisioned in 1991 by dance studio owner Charlene Brown and faculty member Jan Burrow, the production has evolved into one of the most treasured Christmas events on the island.
Now presented under the auspices of Brown’s Whidbey Island Dance Theatre and faithfully set to the memorable music of Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” has grown from the first one-act ballet to a full professional program. It showcases the talent of classical and contemporary dancers who have reached award-winning status, as well as more than 60 members of the local community, from age 6 through 80.
“In the living room scene that opens the story, grandparents are dancing at the party,” Brown said. In the battle scene, mini-mice scamper in fright as the Mouse Queen attacks the Nutcracker.
“Madame Bumble (played in a new twist by male Michael Lodell) protects the butterflies and bumblebees,” she said. “The magical forest introduces bluebirds, mushrooms, dragonflies.”
Over the years, the production has developed its own characters, making it unique.
“We want it to be about things that are all around us, true to the vision we had when we began,” Brown said.
In that vein, a newly created backdrop for the forest scene evokes the mood of the Pacific Northwest, in particular that of Whidbey Island.
“It’s fresh and new,” Brown said, with “mermaids in their underwater world, a majestic Faerie Queen and Forest King who rule over all sorts of creatures, including feisty firebirds, tumbling elves and graceful flowers.”
She noted that the new backdrop was designed and almost solely painted by Kitty Cavanaugh, Seattle Opera House scene director.
“It gave us a great opportunity,” Brown said. “It’s more mystical, a walk on Whidbey through misty, filtered light.”
The show is not overly long, and there’s action from beginning to end. And with so many community members involved in the production, it’s a friendly experience and fun to watch, Brown said.
“Everyone in the audience knows someone up there on stage,” she said.
But this is not an amateur recital, Brown noted.
“It’s a professional show, with seven accomplished choreographers,” she said. There are also eight backstage crew members plus a lighting crew.
“Everyone is very gracious, helping with backgrounds and sets,” she said.
Skilled costuming is also an integral part of the production.
There are items that need to be replaced every year, used hard with a lot of dancing, “or because the young dancers grow,” Brown said.
This year, there are new snowflake costumes, but others need mending or cleaning.
The costume mistresses, a mother-daughter duo, Sarah and Kelley Maxwell of Oak Harbor, began organizing the costume shop in June.
And help comes from many parents who can sew costumes or work on bodices or tutus.
It’s all part of this community endeavor, which expands beyond the dancers and props and set pieces to the more than 100 people keeping the tradition alive.
“I love putting on shows,” Brown said. “Giving dancers onstage dance experience and sharing this wonderful art form with our island community is priceless.”
- Performances of The Nutcracker are Fridays – Sundays Dec. 7-16 at South Whidbey High School.
- Show times are Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2 p.m.; no evening show Dec. 8. Tickets are $10 pre-sale or $15 at the door for opening night (Dec. 7); $20 pre-sale or $25 at the door Dec. 16; $15 pre-sale or $20 at the door for all other performances; ten percent discount for seniors, military, children for online sales only for shows Dec. 8, 9, 14, 15.
- Purchase online at www. widtonline.org, emailing info@ widtonline.org, or by calling 360-341-2221. The non-profit is also inviting patrons to “send a child” to The Nutcracker by donat- ing money for families in financial hardship. More information can be found at widtonline.org. S