“The Nutcracker” dances onto the big screen

— Created December 9, 2020 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

              Enjoy the magic of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s (WIDT) annual production of “The Nutcracker,” a beloved holiday classic with an island twist, from the comfort of home (or a car) this year. 

The production, which is normally performed live, will instead be featured as a film at the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ($40 per carload when purchased in advance at www.widtonline.org, $50 per carload at the drive-in box office). For those looking to bring the holiday magic home, the play will be available to stream as a 72-hour rental for $15 on the WIDT website starting Friday through Jan. 5 or on DVD for $20.

              Charlene Brown, co-artistic director at WIDT, said it was important to continue the show – even if it had to be presented in a different format due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It is especially in times like this we hold on to traditions. It is a time to gather with family and remember why seeing ‘The Nutcracker’ or being in ‘The Nutcracker’ means so much,” she said. “Dancers look forward to their participation in this show. It’s their time to dance a character role and work on their artistry – filming our show made all of this possible!”

              Chyler White, who plays the role of Clara, said she knows going to see the holiday special is a tradition for many Whidbey Islanders and she and her fellow dancers are grateful to have the chance to present the ballet this year.

              “In the midst of everything that is going on in the world, I think it is really important to still keep those traditions alive because everyone has been stuck at home and we are all not able to do as much as we are normally able to,” she said. “I think this is just a really great way to still have those things in your life.”

              Elliauna McLean, assistant artistic director for WIDT, said translating a stage production to a film format brought a number of challenges.

              “Filming a show versus performing live are two very different processes; we are so thankful to have had the help of Nick Dubesa’s (videographer) expertise in making our transition to film as smooth as possible,” she said. “When performing live we have more time to practice and perfect each scene, in filming that time is much shorter. This is something that both we and our dancers had to adjust to.”

              Brown said the film will feature the classic story of the Nutcracker with a Pacific Northwestern flair. Clara (played by White) is given a magical Nutcracker, and dreamlike adventures ensue.

“For us, as artistic directors, it was important to keep our ‘Nutcracker’ storyline the same,” she said. “Even though our stage space is much smaller and our cast is much smaller (because of COVID times), making the changes presented challenges, but wasn’t overly difficult. We put our heads together on how to adapt this show. The dancers are resilient and our seasoned choreographers made it all possible.” 

McLean said while “The Nutcracker” is typically performed at South Whidbey High School’s auditorium, this year filming will take place at the Whidbey Children’s Theatre as well as at various local areas.

“Being able to film a portion of our ‘Nutcracker’ at locations throughout Whidbey was something that has been important to us since the idea of a filmed ‘Nutcracker’ was first brought to the table,” she said. “We are hoping seeing local sites sprinkled into our story will make our local viewers feel like a part of the magic.”

In addition to changes in how the production would be presented, safety protocols were also a key piece of preparation for this year’s production. Brittany Falso, co-artistic director, said guidelines including temperature checks, screening questions and the incorporation of masks were all part of this year’s rehearsals and filming.

“We all wore masks during the duration of the filming process,” she said. “Some solo work was able to be filmed with the dancer mask-less. It was definitely different to dance in masks but everyone adapted well and we had masks made and decorated to match the costumes, so it made it fun in some way!”

              White, a senior at South Whidbey High School, said in spite of the challenges of putting together a show this year, she and her fellow performers look forward to sharing the final product with others on screens big and small.

“I am really excited for people to see it,” she said. “Although it is different, it is still going to be a really amazing way to be able to watch something like this.” 

              Falso said the year has presented many challenges for the arts. WIDT is a nonprofit organization and typically hosts a number of fundraisers throughout the year to help support dance on the island. “The Nutcracker” is one of WIDT’s largest fundraisers and Falso encouraged community members to support the performance as well as explore the options to donate on the WIDT website for those interested in doing so.

              “We want to continue to keep dance alive on Whidbey Island for many years to come!” she said.

Falso added WIDT is thankful for the opportunity to share a holiday classic with Whidbey Island residents this year.

“We appreciate all the support and excitement surrounding our filmed version of ‘The Nutcracker,’” she said. “We do this so our community has something that sparks joy, imagination and tradition during the holiday season.” 

For more information, visit www.widtonline.org.