PORT ANGELES — Now, a leap forward.
For the first time, local Ballet Workshop dancers are stepping into key roles in “The Nutcracker,” which will take the stage for three performances starting tonight.
The classic is about to unfold at a Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, 304 E. Park Ave., that has been transformed into a land of magical sweets, flowers and snow — all against a hand-painted backdrop of the Olympic Mountains.
The Ballet Workshop, with owner and teacher Kate Long and a cast of 90, has been shaping this production since September.
As ever, guest artists are coming to town: Professional dancers Brian Simcoe and Xuan Cheng from Portland’s Oregon Ballet Theatre are coming to portray the Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Katelyn Yang from Kirkland’s International Ballet Academy will dance the Snow Queen as well as the Bee tonight and Saturday.
But the local news is that this Sunday, Isabella Knott of Port Angeles, 14, will dance the role of the Bee, the second lead next to the Sugar Plum Fairy. A high school freshman who attends school online, Isabella dances 15 to 18 hours per week.
“She’s a testament,” Long said, “to the growing technique of the senior students at the school.”
The Ballet Workshop, founded 48 years ago by Sylvia Wanner and purchased by Long in 2014, has dancers age 3 to 19 in this year’s “Nutcracker.”
In another first since Long began staging the production in 2015, two Ballet Workshop students will perform a pas de deux, a dance duet.
“It’s very exciting. … There is a giant talent pool at the school,” Long said.
Isabella, Long’s student for three years now, speaks of both the thrill of performing and the pain of going on pointe.
“There are weeks when it’s fine and everything’s comfortable. There are other weeks when there are blisters,” and feet that cry for a reprieve.
“It’s all worth it,” said the dancer.
This “Nutcracker” performance features characters and events traditional and tailored. Set in Clallam County during the depression of 1895, it opens at the Christmas Eve barn dance — the ballet’s famous party scene.
Friends, musicians and entertainers come from Port Townsend, Dungeness and the Elwha, bringing gifts.
Young Marie (danced by Amelia Brown tonight, Faerin Tait on Saturday and Belladonna Laidig on Sunday) and her brother Frank (Ivan Miller tonight, Audrey Rudd on Saturday, Anna Miller on Sunday) receive a magical nutcracker from their wealthy godfather, Gregers M. Lauridsen (Richard Stephens).
The festivities wind down; time for the kids to go to sleep. Snow begins to fall. Marie and Frank float into a dream, a journey with the Nutcracker Prince into a place where the mice, reindeer, angels, licorice, lambs, snowflakes, icicles, bears and foxes dance. The soundtrack: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score from 126 years ago.
Casting this ballet, with its flocks of youngsters and guest artists, is a complex web, Long said.
“I wanted to give the kids a lot of opportunity to show off their skills,” so some dancers appear in multiple roles, from the opening party to the snow scene. Different casts appear in each performance; for example, Isabella dances as an icicle and an enchanted heron tonight and as an icicle and a flower Saturday.
Then comes her star turn as the Bee on Sunday.
And the teen is showing her mettle.
“It takes a lot of discipline to do ballet, a lot of patience,” Isabella said, adding that every move, every scene takes many tries before it flows. You just have to believe the months of practice will create a beautiful dance.
Isabella does feel nervous before her performances.
“It’s gotten easier over the years,” she said.
“Once you get onstage, it melts away.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.