PORT ANGELES — It is 1895 and the North Olympic Peninsula has been shaken heartily by the Panic of 1893 — an economic depression during which reliable jobs have dried up and money is hard to come by.
As Christmas approaches in the midst of this economic uncertainty, the lives of youngsters Marie and her brother, Frank, are forever brightened by a magical nutcracker gifted to them by local business tycoon Gregers M. Lauridsen.
So unfolds the story of “The Nutcracker,” as re-imagined in 2015 by Kate Long, Ballet Workshop artistic director.
Ballet Workshop Productions will present this version of “The Nutcracker” live at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the 1,150-seat Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center at 304 E. Park Ave.
Tickets are $15 to $35, depending on seating, for those ages 15 and older, and $10 for those ages 14 and younger.
Tickets are available online at www.jffa.org or in person at Port Book and News, 104 E. First St., Port Angeles; or Joyful Noise Music, 112 W. Washington St., Sequim.
About 80 local ballet students, theater performers and guest dance artists from Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet will star in each show.
“When I created this ballet, capturing the soul of the Peninsula was my goal,” Long told the Peninsula Daily News.
“I wanted the audience to relate to the characters and the setting. For example, the traditional ‘Nutcracker’ is set in Europe with very wealthy families and all German characters.”
In Long’s version, there are three families each representing three key regions of Clallam County in 1895 — the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, Forks and the Lower Elwha.
“The lead kids travel through Hurricane Ridge in the snow scene and end up in the Kingdom of Lavender,” Long said.
“In our version, I also made Gregers M. Lauridsen the godfather who gives the gift of the Nutcracker.
“He is a real historic Port Angeles business tycoon who helped rescue the area financially at the turn of the century.
“He is a meaningful hero from the Peninsula’s past that comes alive in our story. Our Nutcracker story is really this town’s story.”
After the Panic of 1893, some residents left the Peninsula as land and timber prices plummeted, according to Historian Kit Oldham.
Currency was scarce after the city’s only bank failed in June 1893.
Lauridsen, according to Oldham, filled the gap by issuing his own money, which circulated across the Olympic Peninsula as the equivalent of U.S. currency for 10 years, helping Port Angeles and the surrounding region through the economic hard times.
In Long’s tale, Lauridsen gives a nutcracker to Marie and Frank on Christmas Eve 1895 during a barn dance on their family’s estate in the Foothills of Hurricane Ridge.
The festivities end as midnight snow begins to fall, and Marie and Frank are taken on a journey with the Nutcracker Prince to a land where sugar plums dance and lavender sparkles in every field.
“It is such a happy story,” said Lindsey Casad, Ballet Workshop executive director.
“It’s also not a simple fairy tale either. It’s got a ton of action, adventure and home-grown country references in it.”
In addition to rewriting the story line in 2015, Long also designed the choreography.
Noah Long, guest artist and rehearsal director, said in some places the choreography is much harder this year than in 2015.
“The local kids improved a lot since 2015 and can now handle harder staging and musicality,” he said.
“The guest artists from Pacific Northwest Ballet will be performing the George Balanchine version of the ‘Grand Pas de Deux,’ which is considered one of the most demanding versions ever choreographed for ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”
While the story line and choreography have been revamped by Kate Long, the production is set to Tchaikovsky’s traditional “Nutcracker” score “with some edits,” Casad said.
“Kate always takes time to abridge the musical scores for Ballet Workshop productions to make the running-times concise for local audiences and less taxing for younger dancers.”
This is the largest production of the year for the Ballet Workshop, Casad said.
“We expect to keep growing every year and eventually be able to accommodate more shows with two full casts so that more local performers can be involved in the production,” she said.
Cast members have rehearsed once a week for eight weeks to prepare for the show, Noah Long said.
“The local performers learned the entire show in 30 less hours this year,” he said.
“Kate runs a very efficient rehearsal schedule and the staff are phenomenal. Every cast member brings something different to the show. Some have to bring big cartoon-like characters to life. Others have to be more sensitive and subtle with their portrayals.”
Some dancers, Noah Long continued, “have very demanding solos and are meant to impress the audience with the difficulty of ballet technique. The little ones are just having fun and enjoying their time onstage. Overall I think the spirit is pretty magical backstage during the show. As a cast, dancers always watch each other from the wings and cheer each other on. We get to be audience members, too.”
“The Nutcracker” is a “right of passage for our local dancers,” Kate Long said.
“For many kids it’s the first time some of them will have ever performed onstage. The staff are also excited to present the Ballet Workshop’s 2017 Merit Scholarships, presented by Jerome and Laura Tisserand and First Federal Bank to seven lucky recipients at the Sunday matinee. It’s a great honor for the school.”
The costumes and sets are elaborate, Casad said.
“The bulk of our party scene and Act 2 costumes were pre-existing in the Ballet Workshop costume inventory,” she said, “so some of them are over 30 years old. We have also purchased 24 brand new tutus from Freed of London, and commissioned hand-made items from our phenomenal in-house Port Angeles seamstress Becky O’Connor.”
The designers of the sets did not skimp on the details, Casad said.
“The Act 1 Barn set was commissioned locally and hand-painted by Blythe McGiveron and Chuck Rondeau. It is so beautiful and detailed and ours forever to own. The Snow scene and Magic Kingdom sets are rented from theatrical companies in California and Indiana. In future seasons, we look forward to commissioning our own backdrops.”
All of the other large moving sets are hand made by local carpenters and prop makers Greg Tatum, Ted Manning and Candyce Jack, Casad said.
Casad invites the public to attend the show.
“I think there is hometown magic in our version that goes beyond ballet,” she said.
“A lot of people last year told us that it was their first time seeing a ballet, and that they’d never expected the show to feel so personal.
“You could feel the pride the audience members took in the story-telling. It’s like they claimed it as their own.”
“Going to see ‘The Nutcracker,’ ” Noah Long added, “is an annual family holiday tradition. I know it was in our house. We hope our audience falls in love with this Peninsula version and makes it an annual tradition for their families too.”
For more information, visit www.jffa.org.
Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at cmcdaniel@ peninsuladailynews.com.