Monica Russell in The Nutcracker

Nutcracker, Nutcracker

by Molly Gilmore for OLY ARTS

As the 124th anniversary of its first production approaches, The Nutcracker might be more popular than ever. There’s an entire website (NutcrackerBallet.com), in fact, devoted to listing productions of the holiday ballet about a little girl who gets a nutcracker for Christmas and finds herself transported to magical lands of snow and sweets. The site lists 26 productions in Washington state. In Olympia, where Ballet Northwest is staging its 32nd Nutcracker and Studio West Dance Theatre is presenting its eighth, it’s clear vast numbers of people have visions of Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in their heads.

Last year, Ballet Northwest’s version of the Tchaikovsky classic was the highest-grossing in that company’s history. “It was a banner year—their best ever,” said Michael Cordier, marketing director for The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, where the production is held.

“It’s amazing,” said Ken Johnson, Ballet Northwest’s co-director. “We have dancers and audiences who come from Pierce County, Mason County, Lewis County and south King County.”

Meanwhile, Studio West’s Nutcracker has grown so much that the studio is spreading performances over two weekends this year, with eight performances compared to last year’s six. “The last few years, we did six shows in a weekend, starting on a Thursday, and it was like 98 percent sold out,” said Stephanie Wood-Ennett, Studio West’s co-director. “That’s why we’re doing two weekends. We also have room to add an extra show if need be on Sundays.”

Studio West is introducing a new element this season, a pre-matinée party for young fans. “The kiddos will do crafts, and they’ll get to meet some of the characters,” said Wood-Ennett, who plans to attend with her daughter Vivienne Ennett, 4. “The characters will read them the story. They’ll get treats. They’ll feel more connected to the ballet.”

There are plenty of local youngsters who already feel connected. That’s aside from the performers, who begin as young as age 7 for Studio West, age 8 for Ballet Northwest. Vivienne is one of those fans. “She is obsessed,” Wood-Ennett said. “She knows everybody’s parts. Even in the summertime, she wants to listen to Nutcracker.”

Ken Johnson and his wife, co-director Josie Johnson, are also raising a devotee, 9-year-old Chloe, who plays a captain in the fight scene. The Johnsons recently spotted a dancer’s little sister performing in the hallway at a rehearsal. “She was dancing as Clara was dancing, and she knew the whole dance,” Josie Johnson said.

Each production involves elaborate costumes and sets, 200 or more dancers and months of rehearsals. Auditions for both productions happen in September, before stores even start putting up holiday decorations. “We want to put our best foot forward, and we want the kids to be successful,” Wood-Ennett said. “We make it just in the nick of time. Right by the time the curtain opens, it’s ready.”

It’s a good thing, then, that she and the Johnsons share an enduring passion for the ballet. Ken Johnson danced in his first Nutcracker 28 years ago. For Josie Johnson and Wood-Ennett, it’s been 27 years. Both Ken Johnson and Wood-Ennett began at Ballet Northwest.

“It’s so part of the holidays for me,” Ken Johnson said. “I love the music. Sometimes when we’re traveling, we even go to other people’s productions.”

“I never get tired of it,” Josie Johnson added. “We have built so many memories that revolve around it.”

“I still love The Nutcracker,” Wood-Ennett said. “I’m glad I love it.”



What: Ballet Northwest’s The Nutcracker

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17;
2 p.m. Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18

How much: $14-$33

Learn more: 360-753-8586 | Washington Center


What: Studio West Dance Theatre’s The Nutcracker

Where: Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts,
South Puget Sound Community College,
2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17;
2 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17;
1 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18

How much: $16-$25

Learn more: 360-753-8586 | Washington Center


What: Winter Wonderland Nutcracker Party

Where: Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts,
South Puget Sound Community College,
2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia

When: 1 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17

How much: $10 for children 4 and up, accompanying adults admitted free

Learn more: 360-753-8586 | Washington Center




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