Ah, to drift off to sleep after the Christmas Eve party and dream of a Land of Sweets. Everyone there moves with uncommon grace as you, the youthful visitor, are swept off into yet another mystical land, where everything glitters with snow.
It’s a magical interlude for Clara, the girl given a nutcracker on the night before Christmas — her ticket to a dream — and it’s the story Sylvia Wanner will tell this weekend as she stages her final performances of “The Nutcracker.”
The longtime artistic director of the Ballet Workshop in Port Angeles is considering retirement in the next couple of years. And for this “Nutcracker,” her star dancers are joining together for what looks to be a dazzling finale.
“I came back for Sylvia,” said Joey Kauffman, who began studying at the Ballet Workshop when he was about 9 years old. Now 20, he lives in Chicago, where he’s attending Universal Technical Institute and working full time as an auto mechanic. He’s brought to his home town another dancer: his partner Lyz Krieger, a willowy blonde who has danced in Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. She’ll dance with Kauffman in “The Nutcracker” of course: as the Sugar Plum Queen to his Cavalier, they paint a sweet, dreamlike picture.
And that, of course, is what “The Nutcracker” is about: the sweetness of youth, of dance and of Christmas.
Wanner doesn’t stage this ballet every year; the most recent was in 2007. This is because, she says, it takes quite some time to develop a core group of dancers.
And the production is beyond elaborate. Forty-five people, from grade-school children to senior citizens, come together on the stage; then there’s the 18-member crew behind the scenes: for the party in Act I, they’ve built a Christmas tree that grows. For Act II, they’ve created the Land of Sweets, which is followed by Clara’s vision of snowfall made real.
Wanner’s “Nutcracker” is about inclusivity. The director was born in Seattle but moved around the country throughout her childhood while studying with a series of European-born ballet teachers; she has been teaching and staging ballet in Port Angeles for four decades now. She knows what community means.
The children’s cast members — who play mice, snowflakes and bonbons — number about 20, while the core cast includes performers who have studied with Wanner since they were children: Lisa Lidback, 22, is the Sugar Plum Fairy in the first two performances, tonight at 7:30 and Saturday at 3 p.m.; then she becomes the Snow Queen at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Switching places with her is Julia Tatum, 15, who dances the Sugar Plum Fairy on Saturday night and in the Sunday matinee. Natalie Orr, 17, is the Snow Queen tonight and Saturday afternoon.
Julia’s sister Maria Tatum, 11, shares the role of Clara the dreamer with Mollie DeVoney, 14. Herr Drosselmeyer, presenter of the nutcracker, is portrayed by Bob Bronsink, one of the senior cast members. The party guests in Act I are a diverse group that includes Richard Stephens, the Port Angeles theater director, costume designer and Peninsula Daily News advertising representative.
“They chose the biggest ham to carry the turkey” into the party, Stephens quipped.
Enveloping it all is Tchaikovsky’s score, first performed on this weekend 118 Decembers ago in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Ballet Workshop production has the 43-member Nutcracker Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Dewey Ehling. This orchestra has drawn musicians from across the North Olympic Peninsula, Ehling said. Players from Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles will perform in the two-hour production, which of course includes the Snow Dance, the grand pas de deux between the Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Queen, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Spanish and Russian dances and the Waltz of the Flowers.
So is this a thrill for the orchestra and its conductor?
“Oh, absolutely,” said Ehling, the 82-year-old maestro who also directs the Port Townsend Community Orchestra, the Peninsula Singers and the singalong edition of Handel’s “Messiah” in Sequim on Dec. 29.
And to add just a little more to the experience, Wanner has brought in the Peninsula Chamber Singers, to sing during the snow scene.
The two-act “Nutcracker” comes with a 30-minute intermission, during which Northwest Fudge & Confections will lay out a prelude to the Land of Sweets.
This, Wanner says, is “a very inclusive art form. We incorporate so much more of the artistic community than people realize.”
She has orchestrated it all, with a focus on telling the “The Nutcracker” tale in its simplicity and sweetness.
Wanner expresses admiration for her star dancers, and for the youngest members of the cast. These kids range in age from 5 to 12, and “they are great mice, great bonbons,” Wanner says. “Then we have the soldiers,” dressed like wooden toys. “They look wonderful on stage.”
This is the director’s “Nutcracker” swan song — yet she says it will not be the last for the Ballet Workshop.“It’s getting to be time for me to retire from doing huge productions,” said Wanner, 69. “I have a lot of help from a lot of fine people . . . and the cream always rises to the top. People who are desirous will reach out and do it. And I will say, ‘Bravo.'”