PENINSULA WOMAN: The dance to the rhythm of life

Picture a dove, in a gray hoodie. Leaning into a cool breath of wind, she takes flight, with no visible effort.

That’s how Lisa Lidback appears as she steps up onto her toes: Luminous, she moves across the floor en pointe as naturally as a bird floats on air.

A native of Port Angeles, Lidback is in full flight this weekend as the Sugar Plum Fairy, that mythic creature who lives in the land of sweets.

Oh, and she’s also the Snow Queen. And a Turkish doll who comes to life. And one of five Russian dancers.

Lidback, 22, dances all of the above in “The Nutcracker,” the pinnacle of the year for The Ballet Workshop of Port Angeles — but hey, her demeanor says, it’s not such a huge deal.

Lidback, who was home-schooled until her last two years of high school, at which time she went to Peninsula College as a Running Start student, is a serious artist when it comes to ballet. But in this highest of high-flown art forms, she’s a down-to-Earth storyteller in motion. And she defies the stereotypes about dancers and divas so common in movies and theater.

Direct attention, Lidback says, isn’t something she’s comfortable with in a social setting.

But on stage, something else takes place. Sharing a story with an audience is simply “a great feeling,” she says. With the music surrounding her, and with years of ballet standing behind her, she focuses her mind on giving that story to the audience.

In a “Nutcracker” year, rehearsals start in January at the Ballet Workshop, with artistic director Sylvia Wanner watching not only for what her dancers can do, but also for what they’re capable of.

Then, Wanner casts the ballet in September, with no auditions necessary.

Wanner chose Lidback for two of the ballet’s most demanding roles — Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen — because she has both the bearing and the technical skill.

“Lisa is such a regal, elegant girl,” Wanner said. “She’s a cool cucumber; she settles right down and really does the work . . . what amazes me,” added the veteran director, “is that she’s been so consistent over the years. I’ve watched her, and pretty soon, oh my God. She can do this, and she can do that.”

Lidback has danced at the Ballet Workshop since she was just 10; she went en pointe at 12 — and remembers the exact date, Feb. 12, 2001.

She’s danced in four “Nutcrackers” now, starting as a party guest in 2000. She also danced the lead — the princess — in the Ballet Workhop’s “The Six Swans” in 2005.

Lidback bows to Wanner, whom she calls “an amazing person.”

“She’s good about casting girls a little beyond what they’ve been able to do,” Lidback said, so the young dancers stretch just a bit further than they may have thought they could.

Lidback, for her part, enjoys the challenge of the pas de deux and group dances in “The Nutcracker;” they are more difficult than her solo turns because, of course, “you have to be together.” Her favorite is the Snow Dance, and she smiles at the memory of pulling it off for the first time.

Lidback has lost a lot of weight in recent months, Wanner said, what with the rigors of preparing for “The Nutcracker.”

And the dancer said she needs no additional diet or exercise regimen to keep herself in shape for her four roles.

Lidback grew up in Eden Valley west of Port Angeles, and now rents an apartment in a pale-blue house, nicknamed the dollhouse, near downtown. She has a full life thanks to, and in addition to, dance.

But ballet is not all there is. Lidback also adores swing, and finds limitless intrigue in the contrast between the two forms.

“Ballet is a fine art . . . all controlled energy,” she says. “Swing is just social,” snapping with that loose-electricity exchange between partners.

Lidback first learned to swing in a class at the Clallam County YMCA while she was in high school. Since then she’s developed her style at dances on Bainbridge Island and at Camp Jitterbug, a three-day intensive in Seattle over last Memorial Day weekend.

And while Lidback has friends who swing — such as Mark Erb, a member of the Port Angeles band Abby Mae & the Homeschool Boys — she hopes to see the younger crowd get more of a community together in Port Angeles, perhaps on the Peninsula College campus.

Lidback herself has two associate of arts degrees from the college, one in general education, completed concurrently with her high school diploma in 2006, and another in multimedia communications in 2008.

She landed a job in the website design department of InsideOut Solutions, a marketing company in Sequim, immediately after graduation. There, she helps create websites for bed-and-breakfast inns around the United States and Canada.

Lidback decided early on not to pursue a professional career in dance. She wants a multifaceted life, not one consumed by ballet. These days, one of the facets she envisions is travel.

“If I had all the money in the world, that’s what I would do,” she says. She’d spend a year in Australia, or backpack across Europe; Lidback is open-minded. She’s only been outside this country a few times, to Spain at 16 on an Independent Bible Church mission, during which she taught English for two weeks at an elementary school, and to Tofino, British Columbia, for a weekend with friends.

Lidback also wants to have a family some day; she’s grown up in a close-knit clan. Several family members are part of this weekend’s events: Lidback’s sister Jill, 18, is dancing the role of the Rat King in “The Nutcracker,” as well as appearing in the Waltz of the Flowers; her brother Nathan, 10, has the role of Fritz; her father, Jim Lidback, is appearing in the party scene for the second time.

And Lidback’s mother Renee is helping to decorate the first place patrons enter as they come for their “Nutcracker” experience: the foyer of the Port Angeles High School auditorium.

At a rehearsal last week, Wanner watched as Lidback and her sister Jill danced together with a flock of young children. This is to be the Ballet Workshop founder’s final “Nutcracker,” as she begins to consider the idea of retiring.

Wanner, Lidback says, has taught her what’s important in a performance. It’s not about showing off your fancy moves, or a lot of costly costumes, sets and special effects; it is about telling a story with your dancing.

And like Wanner, Lidback believes the magic of ballet, and “The Nutcracker,” belong to each of us.

Lidback says she might like to become a dance teacher at some point. Then, not the gushing type, she calmly sums up her feeling about her art form.

“I never want to stop dancing. It’s the love of my life.”

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