Brian Duffy, center, as Uncle Drosselmeyer, distributes gifts to children in the party scene during rehearsals last Friday at the Homer Mariner Theatre.

Homer Nutcracker ballet continues the magic

Homer might be as cold as Moscow this winter, but when it comes to the annual production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, citizens, we’re not talking the Bolshoi Ballet. At the end of the road, and now in its 28th year, the Cosmic Hamlet’s production can be a bit, well, unusual. That’s part of the charm that makes Homer Nutcracker Productions’ version not a cookie-cutter Nutcracker.

Consider some of the ways the Nutcracker gets done Homer style:

— A prologue, “The Tale of the Hard Nut,” that goes back to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the original 19th century story adapted by Alexandre Dumans that Tchaikovsky wrote his ballet based on;

— Technopop, hip-hop dance music for the battle scene between the Nutcracker toy army and the rats;

— Those rats, led by the sinister King Rat himself;

— Hooping and trapeze dancing;

— A black-and-white opening similar to the Wizard of Oz; and

— A big sprawling community production supported by parent volunteers who make snacks, paint sets, sew costumes and keep a cast of 68 enthusiastic teenagers and children more or less in line.

In the first act for the Stahlbaum’s Christmas party, don’t fear that you’ve gone colorblind if you see everything in grayscale. That sets up the transition between the reality of the party and the dream of the ballet. Just as Dorothy flies away from Kansas to Oz in the classic movie, Little Clara falls asleep at her parents’ party and then wakes up.

“As she gets dumped into the magical world, everything becomes vibrant and colorful,” said Jennifer Norton, co-artistic director with Breezy Berryman, also the lead choreographer. “The idea is Uncle Droselmeyer has the magic.”

The first spot of color is when Uncle Droselmeyer brings the toy train out, with the Nutcracker the first thing bright and magical, Norton said. That’s another change: in year’s past, the Nutcracker was a doll. This year, he’s a boy in a mask, played by Elias Allen. In the magical world, the Nutcracker becomes the prince, danced by Collin Trummel, new to the role.

Trummel, of Portland, Ore., comes to Homer courtesy of the School of Oregon Ballet Theater, where he performed in its Nutcracker production as Fritz. Trummel, 14, outgrew the role and was looking to try something new, Berryman said.

He also brings another connection: Trummel’s grandmother, Jennifer “Jinx” Strelkauskas, started the original Homer Nutcracker in 1989 with her sister and Berryman’s mother, Jill Berryman, and another sister, Joy Steward. Strelkauskas had come to Homer to teach a summer dance class and suggested doing a suite from the Nutcracker ballet. One thing lead to another and so the Homer production began.

It’s not Trummel’s first Homer production: one year he visited Homer for the holidays and danced as a bumblebee. Breezy Berryman said she remembered Trummel when he was 5 and could balance on one leg for minutes.

“I said, ‘You’re quite talented. You could be a dancer,’” she said.

Trummel did just that, and has been with the Oregon Ballet Theater for eight years. As a teenager, he also fits in well with the other dancers, all either in their teens or younger, but who has shown a dedication to dance, Norton said.

“It’s really fun to see someone their age who has committed their young life to dance and made it their passion,” she said.

“He’s quite good,” Berryman said. “Here he’s doing all these amazing things.”

Dancing with Trummel is Katia Holmes as the Dream Clara. Like Annalynn Brown, part of the Snowflakes troupe, she’s been in the Nutcracker for 10 years. That’s another Homer Nutcracker tradition: young dancers who work their way up from minor parts like mice and soldiers to more technically challenging roles.

Uncle Drosselmeyer plays a pivotal role in the production. Like a ring master, he keeps all the acts together. This year Uncle D. is Brian Duffy, a veteran Pier One Theatre actor but new to the Nutcracker.

“He’s never done this before. It’s definitely a new challenge for him,” Norton said. “I think it’s a really good fit.”

For the past two years the Homer Nutcracker had an ocean theme, but this year it returns to its roots.

“The kids were like, ‘When are we going to do the classic Nutcracker?’” Norton said. “We’ve returned to Candyland a bit.”

The rat army, though, returns in all its evil, rats rapelling from the rafters, glory. Composer Cody Davidson has reworked the battle scene — definitely not ballet — and the rats get a little more stage time. As big as the youth cast is, Norton and Berryman pared it back from about 85 last year to 68 kids.

“I felt like we needed to cut it down a little,” Berryman said.

Rehearsals start in October, ramp up in November and have been running furiously this week for what Berryman calls “gauntlet week.” Friday night is the final, full dress rehearsal and the show opens at 3 p.m. Saturday. Parent volunteers keep the production going, with commitments to be house parents and snack providers.

Now in their sixth year as artistic directors, she and Berryman feel like they’ve hit a comfortable stride, Norton said.

“We’ve done it enough times it feels natural. Everything’s going smoothly,” she said. “We have a handle on what comes next.”

Saturday, Dec. 3: 3 and 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 4: 3 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 9: 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 10: 3 p.m.

All seats $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and available at the Homer Bookstore, River City Books in Soldotna, and at the Nutcracker Faire

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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