When you get to the end of the road, sometimes stuff gets jumbled around. That might explain why in Homer Tchaikovsky’s traditional Nutcracker Ballet has mutated into a grand community production that has as its core the classic ballet, tutus and toe shoes and all — but with a difference.
Oh yeah, what a difference. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
As a 7-year Nutcracker mom, Andrea Van Dinther, put it, “I do think at this point the most radical thing we could do is a traditional Nutcracker.”
The 29th annual Homer Nutcracker opened last weekend and continues with shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday. Artistic directors Jennifer Norton and Breezy Berryman continue with their own original modifications to the classic ballet, like a storyline, “The Tale of the Hart Nut,” that pulls from the roots of the ballet, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the original 19th century story adapted by Alexandre Dumans that Tchaikovsky based his ballet on.
Guest artist Collin Trummel, 16, formerly of Homer and now dancing with the School of Oregon Ballet, Portland, returns as the Nutcracker Prince. Lead dancers are Ruby Allen, Katie Clark, Katia Holmes and Daisy Kettle. High school seniors Falcom Greear and Jonah Parker perform for the last time as students, as does lighting designer Ben Kettle.
Speaking of Toto, this year’s program includes a listing for “flying monkeys,” which may or may not be an allusion to “The Wizard of Oz.” Norton said this year’s show includes references to “another story.”
“See if you can guess which one it is,” she said coyly.
The Homer Nutcracker uses a technique similar to the 1939 film that starts out in black-and-white and transforms into full Technicolor. As it did last year, the Nutcracker begins in black-and-white — black-and-white Christmas tree, black-and-white costumes and black-and-white sets — and slowly gains color as the mundane world of Little Clara at her family’s Christmas party transforms into the magical land of her dreams.
A big twist this year comes with the Uncle Drosselmeyer character, the eccentric magician who guides Clara into the fantasy world. Singer, actor and commercial fisherman Hannah Heimbuch plays the role as Aunt Drosselmeyer. While the role has been given a gender-bending spin in the past, this is the first time it’s intended as a female character.
“We’ve never had a female Drosselmeyer. We’re excited to have Hannah do that. She has great energy,” Norton said. “We’ve always let the right person come out of the woodwork. It seems like Hannah is the right person.”
The Nutcracker builds its ensemble starting with the young dancers who play mice and soldiers in Act 1 who over time grow to join the Corps de Ballet, the dancers of Act 2. When the Nutcracker started, dance classes taught by Lorraine Haas and Jill Berryman — also one of the ballet’s founders — provided a steady stream of talent eager to be the next Clara. After Haas and Berryman quit teaching, the pool of talent declined. In the past few years, Homer’s dance community has seen a resurgence with ballet classes taught at the Harbor School of Music and Dance and by Breezy Berryman, continuing the tradition of her mother.
“The thing that is most significant this year is the number of dancers who have been dancing year round and have become incredibly dedicated to ballet as a whole,” Norton said.
That also led to a good, but challenging problem: how to find roles for all that talent, especially in lead parts.
“It was hard to make those choices. There were a lot of kids deserving of lead roles. We tried to share things around as much as we could and give them significant stage time and honor that work they’ve put in,” Norton said.
For example, in the role of Party Clara, dancer Ireland Styvar has an extended role in the battle scene and with the Nutcracker Prince before Katia Holmes as the Dream Clara comes in. Nutcracker also has understudies with Ruby Allen for the Dream Clara, Katie Clark for the Snow Queen, and Aiyana Cline in the Corps de Ballet. The understudies perform in a special performance next Wednesday night for a school program.
Like a soaring skyscraper, the Nutcracker stands on a foundation not visible from the audience: all the behind-the-scene work of Nutcracker parents and volunteers. Casting in a role means a commitment from the family, said Amy Stonorov, volunteer coordinator with Kira Stuart. Parents help with things like preparing hot and cold dishes for rehearsals, monitoring backstage rooms while kids wait to go on, and helping with costumes, make up and props.
“It’s just one big community project,” Stonorov said.
Rehearsals and classes started in mid-September and ramped up after Thanksgiving with all-call rehearsals last weekend and through this week for “Gauntlet Week,” the final push to this weekend’s premiere.
Van Dinther’s children have been in the Nutcracker since her son, Hudson Loboy, now 12, was a mouse. He and sister Bella Loboy, 8, play rats, and face off against sister Sofia Loboy, 11, as a soldier in the big battle at the end of Act 1. Van Dinther said she found the role of Nutcracker parent daunting the first time she did a shift.
“It was so intense. These moms were working their tails off in there,” she said. “It was borderline professional. They were serious. They were getting things done.”
Along with a time commitment also comes some fees: a general participation fee of $95 for instructor time and supplies or $145 for dancers in the Corps de Ballet for more intense instruction, Norton said. Performers also need to buy a makeup kit for about $40 that can be used over several years. Shoes and tights are another cost, with ballet slippers running from $12 to $30. Scholarships are available, and dancers can borrow donated slippers from Uncle Tom’s Chest, named in honor of the late Tom Greenwell, who danced the part of Grandpa for many years.
The Nutcracker Ballet pulls together children from all over the lower Kenai Peninsula and from varied backgrounds, Van Dinther noted.
“I love it. It’s one of the times in our community kids from all the different schools — including Connections and home school, pretty much all the different schools — are teaming up for the same thing,” Van Dinther said. “… It’s amazing that our little town pulls this off — pretty big, cool things for such a small, remote town.”