Whidbey Island Dance Theatre keeps “The Nutcracker” fresh

— Created November 29, 2023 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

For many Whidbey Islanders, the holiday season isn’t truly official until it’s time for Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s annual “Nutcracker” ballet.

Everyone is in luck, because performances of the 31st annual WIDT production of the “The Nutcracker” will take place Friday through Sunday, Dec. 8-10 and 15-17 at the South Whidbey High School Auditorium. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Dec. 8, 15 and 16 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 9. 10, 16 and 17. Tickets are $28 for adults, $24 for seniors/military and $18 for youth ages 2-17. Tickets may be purchased online at widtonline.org.

Michael Stadler Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre
Tabitha Metts dances the role of the Forest Queen in Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s 31st annual presentation of “The Nutcracker.” Performances begin Friday, Dec. 8 and run through Dec. 17 at South Whidbey High School.

Originally produced by WIDT founder Charlene Brown in 1993, this year’s performances fall under the watchful eyes of WIDT co-artistic directors, Jamee Pitts and Mark Thrapp. The two are new to their positions this year, and bring with them a fresh perspective for an already unique version of “The Nutcracker.”

“What’s so special about WIDT’s ‘Nutcracker,’ in my opinion, is year after year we create new moments and/or props, to keep our audiences on their toes as to what will be special about this year’s show,” Pitts shared in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “Both Mark and I have enjoyed, while honoring the traditions, finding ways to create something new. We’ve added a new perspective through some new elements with more dynamic choreography, new special effects and some interesting new storytelling.”

The popularity of “The Nutcracker” is something for which Brown always hoped.

“When Jan Burrow and I choreographed the abbreviated “Nutcracker” produced by Island Dance, we had hopes and dreams that it would grow to a full-scale production and become a beloved community, must-go-to show,” she wrote in an email to Whidbey Weekly.

Brown, who began the nonprofit Whidbey Island Dance Theatre as a pre-professional dance program after gaining success with her Island Dance business, said she has always kept the first act of “The Nutcracker” fairly traditional, but enjoys the creativity of the second act of the ballet.

Michael Stadler Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre
While the first act of “The Nutcracker” by Whidbey Island Dance Theatre is traditional, the second act of the ballet has been customized for Whidbey Island audiences. Always popular is the battle between the Nutcracker, danced this year by Melyssa Smith, and the Rat King, danced by Tay Pitts.

“We live in such a beautiful area on South Whidbey and we based the look and feel of our second act to take place in the magical forests,” she described. “Herr Drosselmeyer makes all his magic happen with the Forest Queen and King, Clara and the Nutcracker, magical creatures, animals, fairies and children of the forest. We are introducing the new Dragon Flyers to our second act and then we have the Swallow Tails. This year’s Act Two will be one to remember and not to miss!”

“Between the brilliant music of Tchaikovsky, the holiday theme in the living room and the pure magic of every scene, ‘The Nutcracker’ has become a must see this time of year,” agreed Pitts. “WIDT’s version of ‘The Nutcracker’ having most of its second act customized to have a northwest feel, audience members really feel at home when they come to watch our productions.”

Speaking of feeling “at home,” Pitts is long familiar with Whidbey Island Dance Theatre. She is also Brown’s daughter and became co-owner of Island Dance at the beginning of the year. She has participated in many WIDT productions over the years and is pleased with her new role as co-artistic director.

“Mark [Thrapp] and I both heard of the opening and saw ourselves being perfect for the job and decided to put our names in,” Pitts said. “Both of us being so involved at Island Dance, we both saw this as an extension to the work we do there. Work that supports both the for-profit Island Dance and the nonprofit work of WIDT.

“We have immense respect for the organization, what it stands for and the opportunities it offered to training students of Island Dance,” she continued. “As for my personal journey, now being in the position I saw my mother in for so many years, it’s very humbling and special. It makes me appreciate so much more of all she did and the pathway she laid for previous artistic directors, and now Mark and me.”

Michael Stadler Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre
Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s 31st annual “Nutcracker” ballet features Dancer Yarrow Batiste as the Snow Queen. Tickets are now on sale at widtonline.org.

Pitts said she is pleased with this year’s company of dancers as well.

“Our company consists of 18 very talented artists this year, ranging in age from 10 to 18,” she said. “Each and every one of them has a great work ethic to their training and growing themselves as artists. Mark and I are greatly enjoying working with each of them and see a brilliant future for them all and the company as a whole.”

Pitts and Thrapp cordially invite the community to come and enjoy this seasonal favorite, saying it’s their way of sharing their appreciation for 31 years of community support.

“WIDT wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of our community and surrounding communities,” said Pitts. “One of the much-appreciated ways to support WIDT is to attend our shows, ‘The Nutcracker’ and/or ‘Celebration of Dance’ [in the spring]. We not only appreciate the financial support of your attendance but the opportunity to entertain and share our passion for with you. As a performer myself, there is nothing more fulfilling than having a full audience to perform to.” 

Learn more at widtonline.org.