Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker” delivers an extra dose of joy

— Created December 8, 2021 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

This year’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” ballet, by Whidbey Island Dance Theatre (WIDT), which starts Friday, promises the same joy and magic productions of the past 28 years have delivered. But there’ll be an extra dose of joy this season for performers and audience members alike, said Brittany Falso, WIDT’s artistic director.

“There’s just something really special about a live ballet performance. We are ecstatic about putting on a live performance after not having one last year,” said Falso.

Pandemic precautions in 2020 curtailed the customary live rendition, forcing the theatre staff to marshal a little more creative energy into their presentation.

 “Like many arts organizations, we ended up live-streaming “The Nutcracker” last year,” said Falso. “The Blue Fox Drive-in Theater held a screening of our performance. It turned out really nice, considering the circumstances we had to adapt to.”

Fortunately for Whidbey Islanders, creativity and artistic excellence are still in ample supply at WIDT. Falso, and WIDT’s other artistic director, Elliauna McLean, bring years of training to the organization. Beginning their training at the age of three, both directors dance professionally, Falso with Seattle Dance company DASSdance, and McLean with Bellingham Repertory Dance.

The Christmas season abounds with plays, dramas, and artistic productions of all types, both sacred and secular. But “The Nutcracker” ballet may well be one of, if not the, most anticipated arts presentation of the season. Falso thinks she knows what’s behind its enduring popular acclaim.

“The musical score Tchaikovsky composed for “The Nutcracker” is so amazing, moving, and emotional,” she said. “And of course, equally inspiring is the choreography itself. Over the years, the production has attained a nostalgic allure that brings people and families together; draws them into the holiday spirit.”

As one of the two major productions that WIDT puts on every year, it is “The Nutcracker” that is always staged annually. Falso couldn’t envision it being any other way.

“It’s so well received every year, I can’t imagine it not being held annually. Our community looks forward to this; our dancers and other performers eagerly anticipate it,” she said.

Those who have studied a little of the backstory behind “The Nutcracker” know it’s based on a story by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” As with artistic productions everywhere, sometimes the original storyline is adhered to strictly, other times, minor deviations, alterations, and even altered endings are featured, while still remaining true to the basic tale. In light of that, what can audiences look forward to in WIDT’s rendition?

“This year’s production will be pretty typical, following along closely with what we’ve presented in the past. Each year though, we do try to impart a ‘refreshed’ look to the show,” Falso said. One way WIDT has accomplished that is by giving what Falso calls a uniquely Whidbey Island flavor to parts of the ballet.

“I believe the first eight to 10 productions staged by WIDT in the earlier years followed the more traditional storyline,” said Falso. “One update we’ve added to our rendition occurs in Act 2. Main character Clara enters what we call ‘An Enchanted Forest.’ It’s meant to be very reminiscent of the forests and woodlands that abound on the Island. And being on an island as we are, surrounded by water, it seemed very fitting also to feature an underwater scene that is peopled by mermaids,” she said.

Another new development this year is a change in the ballet’s venue to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) in Langley.

“In years past, South Whidbey High School hosted ‘The Nutcracker.’ Changes brought by the pandemic meant the high school is not renting out their premises this time. But when we heard that WICA had a sudden cancellation for another planned event, we ‘swooped in’,” Falso said.

While live performances are back this year, there won’t be as many of them, so tickets are going quickly.

“Last year, we fielded two shows daily. This year, we are down to six performances,” Falso said. “Combined with social distancing guidelines and smaller venue spaces, that means our limited supply of tickets are already largely depleted for all six shows.”

While that reality is a disappointing one, all is not lost, Falso said.

“In addition to those six regular performances, we’re proposing to add what I call a ‘pay by donation’ show. This is tentatively planned for Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m., and will be open on a first-come-first-served basis. It will be fielded as a normal show, but one that also serves as an extra dress rehearsal for the performers,” she said. “You’ll still be getting the experience of a regular show.

“We film all our productions and because of the pandemic, that’s especially become a priority,” Falso continued. “I encourage anyone who would like, to check out the on-demand view service we plan to offer, sometime around Christmas, for people to rent and watch at home. This will be extra beneficial for anyone who is uncomfortable with being in public spaces, or cousins residing out of state, family members out of town, etc.”

Whether the trees and settings which showcase the dance company are meant to evoke the German forests of Hoffmann’s story or Pacific Northwest evergreens doesn’t seem to matter. The magic inherent in the story’s narrative and triumphant ending still promises to enthrall the viewers.

Apparel bearing WIDT’s Nutcracker logo is also available for sale. Productions of “The Nutcracker” will be held at 7 p.m., Dec. 10, 17, and 18 and at 2 p.m., Dec. 11, 12, and 19. For more information, refer to the website widtonline.org or for tickets and venue information, see wicaonline.org.