Admittedly, staging a full-length version of “The Nutcracker” is a lot of work. But dancers with the Ballet Theatre of Washington company say the holiday staple is here to stay for them.
Opening Friday and playing through Dec. 14 at downtown Centralia’s historic Liberty Theatre, this is the third year that Ballet Theatre of Washington, the performance side of Centralia Ballet Academy, has offered a full-length Nutcracker ballet. About five years ago, the company first offered excerpts from the Christmas show as part of a Nutcracker tea, then eventually decided to produce the full ballet locally.
“There’s something magical about it, the story, the music, the tradition,” said Nancy Gunter, who has owned Centralia Ballet Academy with her husband, Mick, for 11 years. “There’s just magic in it.”
More than 60 dancers will be part of this year’s performance, with even more helping behind the scenes. Mick Gunter said it is the dancers’ enthusiasm for the show that has kept it moving forward.
“It’s just hearing the kids talking every year ‘next year I want to be this’ or ‘next year I want this part’ they have goals they want to achieve,” Mick Gunter said. “And we know we’re going to have all those little kids in the audience who want to part of it. That is why we keep doing it.”
Maysie Bishop, 11, who will share the job of dancing the role of Clara with Lydia Smith, 11, said she enjoys being part of “The Nutcracker” because it involves both dancing and acting.
“It’s fun to sort of get out of your normal life because normal lives can be stressful,” Bishop said.
Nancy Gunter said one of the really fun parts of having a tradition like “The Nutcracker” is seeing the dancers grow and advance each year. She noted that Bishop was one of Mother Ginger’s gingerbread children in the very first Nutcracker teas and has not advanced to a principal role. Likewise, Jaysten Barada, 19, dancing the parts of Cavalier and Rat King, said loves to see which parts everyone gets to dance each year.
“I love the music and I love playing different parts,” Barada said. “I’ve had many roles over the years but Rat King is my favorite. It’s fun to pick up a different role and act differently.”
Besides the opportunity to perform for an audience, dancers say they love being part of “The Nutcracker” because they know it is a holiday tradition for many families.
“As a dancer, you can really bring joy and happiness to the audience when they see it,” said Jenova Williams, 15, who will dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy.
During “The Nutcracker”, the lobby of the historic Liberty Theatre will be decked out as a winter wonderland and feature a holiday boutique where audience members can shop for various holiday gift items and goodies. Board Presidents Theresa McMurry, whose daughter, Tess, is part of the Ballet Theatre company, explained that boutique sales benefit scholarships for dancers as well as the ballet theatre’s planned spring production of a full length “Sleeping Beauty,” which is planned for May.
“A lot of our kids don’t have an opportunity to be on stage and that’s why we do this,” McMurry said. “It’s a developmental opportunity. You develop character, poise and confidence.”
From costuming to set design and even some performances on stage, it takes a large number of dancers’ parents to make “The Nutcracker” a reality. Marisol Williams, whose daughter Jenova, 15, and son, Marius, 14, are part of the company, said Centralia Ballet is a family-oriented studio and that care they have for each other shows in their version of “The Nutcracker.”
“Everybody cares about everybody,” Marisol Williams said. “The young people really root for each other. That makes it a really neat environment to be involved in.”