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Timeless ‘Nutcracker’ sure to revive childhood wonder

Clark County dance companies bring their special touch to holiday classic

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
7 Photos
A scene from Northwest Classical Ballet's 2018 production of "The Nutcracker." (Gerard Regot/Northwest Classical Ballet)
A scene from Northwest Classical Ballet's 2018 production of "The Nutcracker." (Gerard Regot/Northwest Classical Ballet) Photo Gallery

Here’s a true psychological challenge for you, worldly grown-ups: Can you remember what Christmas used to feel like, back when you were just an eager and credulous little kid?

That slightly mysterious, deeply delicious feeling is precisely what “The Nutcracker” ballet always aims to revive. The story starts in the recognizable reality of a Christmas Eve party, but at the stroke of midnight, hinted-at magic busts out in a big way. Before you know it, the stage is full of gingerbread men, warrior mice, tin soldiers, living dolls and, of course, a Sugar Plum Fairy.

“The story of ‘The Nutcracker’ depicts how wonderful the imagination of children really is,” said Chris Cannon, operations manager at Danceworks Performing Arts.

The dramatic first act seems designed to appeal to youngsters who love dance and youngsters who don’t.

“Amidst the party dresses and dolls, you find soldiers that battle and a Mouse Queen that challenges the Nutcracker to a duel,” said manager Hannah Pass of Columbia Dance. Then, the second act becomes a shameless showcase for dancing candies and other increasingly amazing creatures.

If You Go

What: “The Nutcracker” performances by Clark County dance groups.

Who: Vancouver Dance Theater.

When: 7 Dec. 6; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 7; 2 p.m. Dec. 8.

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

Tickets: $16.25; free for lap-sitters age 2 and under.


Who: Friends of Danceworks Performing Arts.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 20; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21; 2 p.m. Dec. 22.

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

Tickets: $20. 

Contact:; 360-892-5664.

Who: Northwest Classical Ballet.

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 14; 2 p.m. Dec. 15.

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

Tickets: $16; $12 for students and seniors when purchased in advance; $18; $14 for students and seniors when purchased at the door; $30 for VIP ticket package with reserved seating and more.


Who: Columbia Dance.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 20; 2  and 7 p.m. Dec. 21; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 22; 1 p.m. Dec. 23.

Where: Royal Durst Theatre, Vancouver School of Arts & Academics, 3101 Main St.

Tickets: $20; $15 for youth and seniors. 

Contact:; 360-737-1922.


What: “Christmas Stories,” by Dance Fusion Northwest, an original holiday dance performance that’s not a “Nutcracker.”

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21; 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 22.

Where: Ridgefield High School Performing Arts Center, 2630 S. Hillhurst Road.

Tickets: $16; $12 for students and seniors.

“In Act Two, the majority of the dances are under three minutes in length” and should be able to hold the attention of the youngest lap-sitters, Pass said.

“As to how it became a time-honored tradition in the first place,” she added, “we’d give the bulk of the credit to Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score, which goes beyond the sheer beauty of the music” to become an essential part of the tale itself. Calling this music catchy is putting it mildly. Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” score is really an anthology of the sweetest, poppiest earworms ever classified as “classical.”

Reality check: When the ballet was first staged in 1892, it wasn’t a hit. Some critics were confused by the thin plot and masses of magical characters. We suspect they needed a little booster shot of childhood magic. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that “The Nutcracker” took off as a new Christmas tradition.

“It’s a timeless classic,” said Patti Lundgren of Northwest Classical Ballet. “There are so many different versions by different companies, you can see multiple ‘Nutcrackers’ and not see the same show twice.”

‘Nutcrackers’ by the numbers

It’s more than a beloved ballet — it’s a rite of passage for whole armies of young dancers (not to mention their instructors and their families) and a seasonal ritual for communities the world over. We suspect “The Nutcracker” might just be the most popular performance piece of any kind, anywhere on Earth, period.

Let’s do some counting. How many local kids and how many dollars are invested in this season’s shipment of Sugar Plum Fairies and Mouse Kings? We surveyed local dance companies and tallied up the figures for this “Nutcrackers by the numbers,” 2019 edition.

4: Number of local dance companies that are staging …

17: Individual “Nutracker” performances this month, with …

8,500: Total tickets to sell.

285: Girl dancers.

41: Boy dancers.

47: Parents and older siblings in grown-up roles.

$137,000: Total estimated cost of all productions.