There are some rituals and stories that are so much a part of the holiday season that to separate them from Christmas is all but impossible. They are everyone’s family traditions. Characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, Rudolph and the Grinch are as much a part of Christmas as are decorated trees and presents.
One other such holiday staple is the much loved story of a little girl and her very special Christmas present, a nutcracker.
This holiday season, the Olympic Performance Group will return its rendition of “The Nutcracker” to Bainbridge Island for its eighth annual performance. Directed by Bainbridge Ballet owner/lead instructor Sara Cramer, the show promises to continue the tradition of innovation that has marked the group’s previous productions.
“We do fresh choreography every year,” Cramer said. “So our theme is fresh every year.”
Past shows have given audiences surprise themes like masquerade balls and dancers from around the world.
This year, the show will use a late 1700s French motif, with the costumes and set reflecting the twist.
Also new this year is the character of a giant puppy, a costume that requires two dancers, played by Amber Powell, Oksana Sherbina and Claire Branley in teams.
“It takes some creative doing,” Cramer said of the efforts required to reinvent the classic story every year.
“We use a lot of dance forms, not just ballet. Ballet is a kind of central theme, but we also use hip hop, jazz and tap,” she said.
While the idea of a hip-hop Nutcracker might alarm ballet purists, Cramer insists the show benefits from the occasional fresh interpretation.
“I grew up doing just ballet,” she said. “But I think it makes it more interesting for the general public who may not know that much about dance anyway.”
The show features approximately 65 dancers ranging in age from 7 to adult with several hand-picked younger dancers, some as young as 5, making small appearances. The tap performances are choreographed by Kathy Dalessi, an assistant coach at Bainbridge Ballet. The production manager is Alex Ung, the school’s jazz and hip hop dance coach.
Considering the popularity of the show today, it may surprise some to learn that “The Nutcracker” was not an initial success.
The ballet was adapted by Alexandre Dumas Père from a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and first set to music by the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Originally premiered in December 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, the music of the eight most popular pieces (known today as the Nutcracker Suite) was very well received, but the ballet itself did not become popular until it came west in the early 1940s.
Today “The Nutcracker” is probably the best-known ballet in America, aside from possibly “Swan Lake,” said Cramer.
Kate Houmes, who plays the lead of Clara St. Laurent in this year’s show, said most people probably don’t appreciate how difficult ballet actually is.
“We have to make it look really easy,” she said. “But it’s actually really hard.”
Physical trials aside, Houmes said she loves ballet for many reasons.
“It’s really fun and you get to be around all of your friends while doing something you love,” she said. “And it’s another way to exercise.”
The cast also includes Scott Cole as Mr. St. Laurent and the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Brent Kehoe as the titular Nutcracker, Maddie Cole as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Sarah Dalessi as the evil Rat Queen.
For those who may be reticent to attend a ballet, possibly suffering from a boring school field trip flashback, Cramer advised giving the show another chance.
“I love the comments from dads and grandfathers,” she said. “Because they’ll come up to be and say, ‘I didn’t want to come, but this was really good. I would come again.’ And that means a lot.”
Despite the myriad of Nutcracker productions at this time of year, Cramer is confident that the continual reinvention of the show is what brings the audience back.
“I’ve also had a couple who had season tickets to the Pacific Northwest Ballet for many, many years, and they loved our production every bit as much,” she said.
“I think that’s probably one of the appeals,” Cramer added. “We do change things up a little bit. Each year is a little different. So even if you’ve seen it last year, you may see something that you didn’t see last year.”
The Nutcracker will play for six performances at The Island School (8553 NE Day Road) with shows at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 to Monday, Dec. 23, and additional matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21 and Monday, Dec. 23.
Tickets are $23 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. They can be purchased online at www.olympicperformancegroup.org or in person at Winslow Drugs and Bainbridge Ballet.
Olympic Performance Group is a nonprofit organization formed with the purpose of increasing dance appreciation, education, and providing semi-professional productions for the local community in the form of stage productions, workshops and summer programs in Poulsbo, Seattle and Bainbridge Island.
Bainbridge Ballet has been offering dance classes for students ages three and up since it first opened in 2002. Classes range in difficulty and dance style, including ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, hip hop and tap.
For more information visit www.bainbridgeballet.com, call 206-842-1205, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the studio at 9720 Coppertop Loop Suite 201 (above Metro Market).