'The Nutcracker' returns

"The Nutcracker returns to Whidbey Island again this holiday season, when Whidbey Dance Theatre presents its signature production at the South Whidbey High School theater.More than 70 dancers, including children from Coupeville and Oak Harbor, will tell the magical story of Clara and her dreamlike journey through an enchanted realm, where the Rat King makes war, flowers dance, fairies hold court and a handsome prince comes to the rescue. Whidbey Dance Theatre has staged its creative and inventive Nutcracker for island audiences since 1991. In 1999, a expansion and redesign of Act II entailed new backdrops, sets, costumes and props to create a forest of magical dreams.This year, in an effort just as ambitious, Whidbey Dance Theatre has redesigned Act I to flow seamlessly into Act II, with its underwater ballet, a Chinese New Year's dragon and the traditional Waltz of the Flowers.The new concept of Act I leads into the fanciful atmosphere of Act II, with its English faeries, firebirds, mermaids and pixies, said Kyra Barnholt, principal choreographer, who worked with choreographers Susan Sandri, Jeannie Miller, Amy Windecker and Susan Vanderwood under artistic director Charlene Brown.New Victorian sets evoke the grandeur of the era: The woods of the English countryside are dark and mysterious surrounding a manor house whose interior brings the warmth of a gracious drawing room. Large windows are draped in rich fabrics, while under a Christmas tree toy soldiers in a sentry box and porcelain fairy dolls await the children.A large fireplace with mantel and ornate mirror becomes the focal point of the scene, mirroring the cave in Act II, and Godfather Drosselmeyer's large trunk yields a Russian black bear, colorful parrots and a wooden carving of tumbling gnomes, all of which leap into life in the blazing fire.Dancing in the starring role of Clara is South Whidbey's Katie Riggs.It is the first time Clara will be en pointe, Barnholt said. The emerging dance proficiency of the Whidbey Dance Theatre company members allows even more challenging choreography, with Kira Hubbard en pointe as the Snow Fairy, Karla Gilbert as the Flower Fairy and Amy Berto as the Fairy Queen. Although much of the ballet has been re-choreographed, some pieces have not been restaged, said Brown. These include the snow scene, the creation of Asharaine Machala, principal choreographer for several years.Other starring roles are Brock Daniels as Drosselmeyer, Amy Windecker as Rat King and Mermaid, Martha Furey as Grandmother, Beno Kennedy as Madame Bumble, and Ramon Paz as Drosselmeyer's assistant and the Nutcracker Prince. Producer is Bennett White.The ballet includes set pieces designed by local oil painter/designer and muralist Beno Kennedy, and masks by designer Diana Shirley. Shirley's masks, including forest creatures, sprites and nymphs are drawn from artists' renditions of traditional pixies and faeries. The redesign of Act I has been as immense an undertaking as that of Act II last year, said Whidbey Dance Theatre president Diane Watson. We believe this next phase will set an unparalleled future for WDT's 'Nutcracker,' she said. We have put our unique stamp on a traditional classic. ----------------Where and whenWhidbey Dance Theater production of The Nutcracker Presented by the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1, 2, 8, and 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2 p.m., Dec. 3, 9, 10Tickets: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students; special matinee price of $5 for children under 13 Call the WICA box office, 221-8268 "

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