It’s been a hard-won victory to get to this year’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”
Centralia Ballet Academy has been offering a full-length production of “The Nutcracker” since 2017. Then came COVID-19 in 2020, and the studio pivoted to create a movie-style version of “The Nutcracker” that was offered for download as a way to keep their students dancing. Last year, they got to have an in-person show at Centralia College’s Corbet Theatre, but with half the audience because of COVID-19 restrictions on campus.
“The main thing is the kids still got to perform,” said Mickey Gunter, who owns Centralia Ballet Academy with his wife, Nancy. “This year, there are no COVID restrictions at the theater so they get to experience a full audience. So, it’s been great steps for them.”
The Centralia Ballet Academy version of “The Nutcracker” will be open Dec. 2-4 at Corbet Theatre on the Centralia College Campus.
Featuring the original score by Tchaikovsky, Centralia Ballet Academy’s version of “The Nutcracker” tells a slightly different and more action-packed story. Gunter explained that they have been slowly expanding the “Nutcracker” story based on the book “Fritz the Rat King: A Nutcracker Adventure Story,” which Gunter published in 2019. He plans to add more books in the series, which will cover some of the stories Gunter plans to tell.
“So, we’re leaning into a backstory that I started last year,” Gunter said of the upcoming show.
The show still features Clara (danced by Lily Lennox). But in this version, Clara is descended from an importer who was once kidnapped by pirate mice. He escaped his captors and stole their jeweled star, which now adorns Clara’s family’s Christmas tree. After her family’s Christmas party, Clara awakes to the pirate mice, led by the pirate mouse king (danced by Wesley Wilhelmi) and his rat princes (danced by Cael Best, Mars Hughes and Landon Nowa), attempting to steal back their star and being met by opposition from the toy soldiers (danced by Corbyn Barnette, Abe Fanning, Aiden Mitchell, Laney Nowa and Tiberius Wilhelmi) led by their general (danced by Auria Franks).
Clara and her Nutcracker (danced by Carter Johnston) join the fight to defeat the Rat King and travel together to the Land of the sweets where she meets such characters as: the Snow Queen (danced by Lydia Smith) and Snow King (danced by Jacob Mecham) and their snowflakes (danced by Brooke Larson, Tess McMurry, McKenna Bryan, Kyleigh Lloyd, Kelsey Mullin, Eliza Wilmot and Jamiah Wood); the Sugar Plum Fairy (danced by Tess McMurry and Brooke Larson) and her Cavalier (danced by Mecham); the Dew Drop Fairy (danced by Bryan).
In exploring new backstories, Gunter said they have slightly changed some of the familiar characters. For instance, Drosselmeyer brings three fantastical dancing dolls to the Christmas party but in this version they are the Columbine Doll (danced by Eliza Wilmot), the pointe doll (danced by Ari Hannum) and a pirate doll (danced by Caitlyn Rose) instead of a soldier doll, in keeping with the pirate theme. Another added character is a comical sous chef (danced by Smith) who accompanies Mother Ginger (danced by Caitlyn Rose) and her adorable gingerbread cookies (danced by Hester Fanning, Mia Servellon-Jesperon, Emma Kresse, Charlotte Leopold and Summer Moran).
“It’s a lively show and it changes every year,” McMurry said. “Each year, it’s a little different.”
“It’s the same in spirit but it’s always a little different,” Wood added.
Being part of “The Nutcracker” is a major undertaking for these young dancers. They begin weekend rehearsals in September and said committing to “yes” to “The Nutcracker” often means having to say “no” to a lot of other things. But the dancers say they enjoy the camaraderie that occurs backstage and payoff of being able to dance for an audience.
“Knowing you get to perform because it’s fun to perform,” Lennox said of what makes the hours of practice worthwhile.
Many of the dancers taking the stage in Centralia Ballet Academy’s “The Nutcracker” have danced for many years, starting off in small roles like party guests or the gingerbread cookies. Smith, who said Snow Queen is definitely her favorite part to dance so far, said progressing as a dancer each year is one of the things she loves best about the Christmas tradition.
“I like that it’s an annual thing,” Smith said. “You get to get more and more proficient as a dancer and you get to dance in bigger and bigger roles each time.”
For many, the show is also a family affair. Dancing the role of Drosselmeyer, Scott Burlingame will be on stage with his wife, Jeni (dancing as party guest) sons Jack (dancing as party boy and in Chinese) and Sam (dancing as party boy). Burlingame explained they first got involved with the dance center when they enrolled Jack in classes as something different to do. Last year, when Jack danced the role of the Nutcracker, Burlingame was offered the chance to dance as Drosselmeyer and loved the idea of being part of the show with his sons.
“It’s something different that we all can do together,” Scott Burlingame said. “If they were in sports, I’d be on the sideline and it was really special for me last year to be on the stage with both my boys at the same time. It’s a family thing that we can all do together.
If You Go …
What: Centralia Ballet Academy presents “The Nutcracker”
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 2-3 and 2 p.m. Dec. 3-4
Where: Corbet Theatre in Washington Hall on the Centralia College campus
Tickets: $25 adults and $20 for kids, students and seniors
Stream: $30 to stream on demand or digital download
Information: centraliaballet.com or call or text 360-623-9010