For dancers and supporters of Southwest Washington Dance Center, the loss of their beloved “Nutcracker” in 2020 to COVID-19 restrictions was an especially hard blow.
It wasn’t just any “Nutcracker” that was canceled. It was the 25th anniversary of the beloved Christmas show presented by the nonprofit Chehalis dance center.
This year’s performance, taking place Dec. 16-18 at Corbet Theatre on the Centralia College campus, will be a chance to finally celebrate their 25th performance, as well as the resiliency of the center and its dancers.
“Coming out of COVID, this place has become a beautiful refuge for these dancers after all the isolation,” said Marcia Greenfield, administrative director. “Coming here, it’s like a second family and they get to express themselves in ways a lot of other kids haven’t been able to.”
The last full-length version of “Nutcracker” performance for Southwest Washington Ballet was in 2019. In 2020, what would have been its 25th performance, the dance center offered a virtual show called “Home for the Holidays: The Joy of Social Distancing.” Last year, when ongoing COVID restrictions meant less capacity at Corbet Theatre, the dance center made the decision to hold off on the 25th Anniversary “Nutcracker” performance and instead offered a Christmas ballet titled “Escape to the Land of the Sweets.” But the plan was always to return to offering a full “Nutcracker” as well as giving the community a chance to celebrate the 25th anniversary with them.
The roots of “Nutcracker” at the Chehalis dance center started simply, Greenfield recalled, with an announcement by center’s director in June of 1996, that there would be a performance of “Nutcracker” that December. Though surprised and a little overwhelmed by the idea, the community of dancers and their families got behind the idea. Greenfield, whose daughter danced in the very first “Nutcracker” remembered Friday night work parties to create some of the costumes and props still in use today. In those early days, Greenfield said she doesn’t think anyone was really thinking how many years the show might last, but rather the mad dash to get everything done in time. Over time, the show has remained a monumental undertaking but one that no one even questions.
“It’s really become a staple for us, not only for the fundraising but the dancers love to perform and they work really hard for it.”
The 25th Anniversary edition of Southwest Washington Dance Center’s “Nutcracker” is directed by Danielle Brosco and Brianna Jones. It is the traditional story of Clara (danced by Anna Hoinowski and Capri O’Neill) who receives a nutcracker doll from the mysterious Drosselmeier (danced by Julia King) at her family’s Christmas party. She awakes in the night to find her family’s tree and everything around it has grown to enormous size and the rat king (danced by Matt March) is at war with the Christmas toys. After Clara and her Nutcracker (danced by Adrien Zimmer) defeat the rat king, they are transported to the land of the sweets where they meet characters such as: the Snow Queen (danced by Eva Reynolds and Amanda Brossard); the Sugar Plum Fairy (danced by Hannah Feaster and Myah O’Neill) and her Cavalier (danced by Gideon Newkirk); Mother Ginger (danced by Matt March) and her Gingerbread cookies (danced by Collette Houser, Zelda Muir, Avery Butler and Piper Hartley); and the Dew Drop fairy (danced by Capri O’Neill and Hanna Feaster).
“My feeling is always ‘Nutcracker’ is a gift so we’re training the dancers that this a gift,” Brosco said of the general spirit of each year’s production. “When they’re thinking of it as a gift, they stop thinking about themselves and start focusing on being generous of spirit as dancers.”
While the dance center’s version of “Nutcracker” always stays true to the original Christmas tale, each year has certain details that make it unique. Jones said this year’s 25th anniversary performance is meant to pay tribute to the entire history of the show. Jones said she actually went back and watched recordings of all of the previous 24 years of “Nutcracker” for inspiration. She even had to track down a VHS player to be able to show her classes one of the few remaining recordings of the 1996 show.
“I wanted all the students to know where we started,” Jones said.
Jones said she found many points of inspiration from those historical shows. For example, said she there is no one dancing the role of Snow King this year so she took inspiration from some of the previous years’ Snow Pas de deux (the dance between the Snow Queen and Snow King) for the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Another nod to previous years is a returning transition scene featuring the characters of baby mice (danced by Quinn Phillips and Harper Paulis), a role that Jones once danced in one of her first appearances in “Nutcracker.”
“I remember running across the stage in a mouse costume when I was little,” Jones recalled.
There will even be some guest appearances from previous years. Joel Dolezal will again dance the role of Mr. Staulbaum with Stacy Jones dancing as Mrs. Staulbaum for one of the performances and Warren Hall will repraise the role of Mother Ginger.
And volunteers like Tiffany James have been re-working and reviving old costumes and props from the dance center’s archives. James, whose daughter, Juniper, 10, and son, Lincoln, 13, will dance in this year’s “Nutcracker,” volunteered her seamstress skills last year when Juniper first got the chance to be part of the annual December performance.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a little bananas but it’s been an adventure,” James said of helping out behind the monumental production. “It’s something that everyone has an opportunity to be part of.”
Audiences will also notice elements from “Escape to the Land of the Sweets” as part of this year’s “Nutcracker.” Jones and Brosco made the decision to use the walnut boat to transport Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to the Land of the Sweets instead of the traditional feather boat. The Ocean Dancer (danced by Madyson Palen and Mila Matz) and the seahorses (danced by Kaylyn Hill, Avery Mordick, Mandy Helland, Brooklyn Wohld, Willow Rogerson, Marivella Mendez, Reagan Laufenberg and Charlie Jensen) from last year’s production will also make an appearance this year.
“That was kind of nice to be able to mash it up like that,” Jones said.
Though its history factored into some of the decisions for this year’s “Nutcracker” some of the production is purely unique to this year. For instance, this year’s “Nutcracker” will feature an all-female troupe for the Arabian Dance, which has historically incorporated male dancers for lifts. Instead, the all-female troupe performs intricate balancing acts and lifts. Another change is with the character of Drosselmeier. Brosco said Scott Middleton retired from dancing the part, so this year’s show will feature Julia King dancing that role. Brosco said she King had wanted the part for a very long time and brings her own twist to the character.
“And she’s a dancer so she brings something new to it,” Brosco said.
In celebration of 25 years of “Nutcracker” there will be an opening night reception held at 5 p.m. Dec. 16 at Corbet Theatre. Tickets are $25 per person and will include special food and drinks, photo opportunities and a special raffle.
If You Go …
What: Southwest Washington Dance Center presents “Nutcracker” 25th Anniversary
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16 (opening night reception at 5 p.m.), 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18.
Where: Corbet Theatre in Washington Hall on the Centralia College campus
Tickets: $24 adults and $16 for 18 and younger, seniors and military. Opening night reception tickets are $25 per person. Advanced tickets are recommended and are available at swwdance.org.
A special pay-what-you-can dress rehearsal will be held at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 with tickets available only at the door beginning at 6 p.m.