‘The Nutcracker’: Beloved ballet gets some fun new twists

Friends of DanceWorks’ production has surprises in store for the audience

By Wyatt Stayner, Columbian staff writer



If You Go

 What: “The Nutcracker” performances.

 Who: Vancouver Dance Theater.

 When: 7 p.m. Dec. 1; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2; 2 p.m. Dec. 3.

 Where: Fort Vancouver High School, 5700 E. 18th St., Vancouver.

 Tickets: $13 per person; $10 per ticket for groups of 15 or more at the same performance; free for lap-sitters age 2 and under.

 On the web: www.vancouverdancetheatre.com/nutcracker-2017.html


 Who: Friends of DanceWorks.

 When: 7 p.m. Dec. 8; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 9; 2 p.m. Dec. 10.

 Where: Prairie High School, 11311 N.E. 119th St., Vancouver.

 Tickets: $16; $12 students and seniors 65 and older; $8 for children ages 3 through 12.

 On the web: danceworksperformingarts.com/nutcracker


 Who: Northwest Classical Ballet.

 When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2; noon and 4 p.m. Dec. 3.

 Where: Camas High School, 26900 S.E. 15th St., Camas.

 Tickets: $18.

 On the web: www.northwestclassicalballet.com

 Who: Columbia Dance.

 When: 7 p.m. Dec. 15; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 16; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 17; 1 p.m. Dec. 18.

 Where: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St., Vancouver.

 Tickets: $20; $15 seniors and students; $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

 On the web: columbiadance.org

Ever since it debuted in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, “The Nutcracker” has grown into one of the most ubiquitous Christmas traditions. And ever since the San Francisco Ballet performed the first U.S. rendition in 1944, its showings have quickly become an American institution, stretching from the snow-covered Northeast to sunny Southern California, with siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends summoned to yet another production of “The Nutcracker.”

Friends of DanceWorks’ Director Karen Cannon is very cognizant of “Nutcracker” fatigue.

“You tend to have the same students who do it year after year, and I think their parents are probably thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to be the same thing,’ ” Cannon said with a smile. “So I think they’re going to be surprised this year.”

Cannon and DanceWorks’ instructors — Julia Ostrovskaia, Alyssa Hofmann, Tiffany Schmeling and Lacey Ackerman — brainstormed ways they could spice things up to keep all parties interested for the performances at 7 p.m. Dec. 8; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 9; and 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at Prairie High School, 11311 N.E. 119th St.

Cannon calls Ostrovskaia the “ballet mistress,” and Ostrovskaia has handled much of the choreography, making it more challenging than in previous years, Cannon explained. The plot has also been slightly altered to include a dream-like twist.

“Every time you bring a new teacher to help, it brings a new perspective to it,” Cannon said.

They’ve also added a new backdrop, and a cryogun, which shoots out a coolant similar to dry ice and will act as a cannon in the ballet, Cannon noted. The special effects, costumes and relatively quick run time are, in part, why the performance is so popular, “and appealing to young children,” Cannon said.

“It’s very visual and it’s comedic. It moves very quickly,” Cannon continued. “You’re not going to ask a 7-year-old to sit through three hours of just ballerinas in tutus.”

Since DanceWorks debuted “The Nutcracker” in 2013, it has become the company’s most popular performance, growing from 45 to 108 performers in that time. The ballet requires about six hours of staging, plenty of costume alterations, and numerous rehearsals. Cannon said she gets a little “manic” the night before, but finally exhales once the ballet starts.

“When you’re doing an (in-house) end-of-year performance with students, I always tell the kids, ‘Everyone in this audience are people who know you and love you. You can fall on your face and they won’t mind. It’s OK,’ ” Cannon said. “But with ‘Nutcracker,’ the fliers are out there. Anyone can come see it. I think it’s scarier, but we’re performers. We work well under pressure.”