Ballet Northwest "Nutcracker" Snow scene 2019, photo by Jerome Tso
Visions of Sugarplum Fairies will be dancing across the stage of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts beginning Friday, Nov. 25, when Studio West Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker” opens. Ballet Northwest’s “Nutcracker” begins Friday, Dec. 9.

by Molly Gilmore





The winter holiday season brings illuminated streets, eggnog lattes, Christmas songs of all sorts and, of course, “The Nutcracker.” The tale of a young girl’s journey to realms of mice and snow, fairies and sweets, with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, debuted in 1892 in Russia, and while it wasn’t a big hit at the time, it’s since become a mainstay of ballet companies everywhere — and Olympia is no exception.

Cole McMason and Hannah Smith, 2021 photo, both longtime Studio West dancers now dancing with Ballet Tucson, are back to dance the roles of Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy.

Visions of Sugarplum Fairies will be dancing across the stage of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts beginning Friday, Nov. 25, when Studio West Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker” opens. Ballet Northwest’s “Nutcracker” begins Friday, Dec. 9.

Both companies make small changes to the classic tale each year, tweaking the choreography, changing costumes and finding new ways to engage audiences, but the biggest change in 2022 is that Covid-19 is no longer changing the look and feel of the shows.

“Last year, we had full masking for 95 percent of the cast members,” Wood-Ennett said. “We had something like seven leads who did not wear masks. … This year, we are 100 percent back to normal.

Cole McMason, now a professional dancing the role of the Cavalier and Nutcracker in this year’s show, danced his first Studio West “Nutcracker” in 2010.

“There’s a new appreciation for the privilege of performance,” she told OLY ARTS. “It definitely feels like a privilege just to be together. My dancers are more hungry than ever, and it’s wonderful to see their smiles on the stage.”

Camryn Gibeau, a senior at Olympia High School, danced the role of Clara in a Studio West production of “Nutcracker” in 2021.

“It’s just great to be back to normal,” said Ballet Northwest co-director Ken Johnson. “The cast is back to the 2019 level, and so are ticket sales. The dancers are so excited to have a full audience. They appreciate the opportunity to dance in front of big crowds again.”

Hannah Smith when she was a party girl in the 2011 Studio West production of “Nutcracker.”

Studio West, which began performing on Thanksgiving weekend in 2021, has increased its number of performances from four to six. This year’s cast has 160 dancers, down from a pre-pandemic high of over 200.

Both companies have been reconsidering the Lands of the Sweets dances, a change that’s part of a broader trend. Studio West has been working on choreography for the dances, which portray such treats as Chinese tea and Spanish chocolate. “We’re doing our best to respect all cultures and be as authentic as possible,” Wood-Ennett said. “We’re continuing to grow in that department, like a lot of other ballet companies.”

Ballet Northwest “Nutcracker” Party scene 2016 (dancer Monica Tsien).

Ballet Northwest has chosen a different approach by focusing on the sweets themselves rather than on their countries of origin, particularly in costuming. For the tea dance, for example, dancers will wear green dresses with chiffon skirts and bodices made from a brocade with flowers and leaves. “It’s a green tea theme,” Johnson said. “It’s a little more artistic.”

This is the first year since 2019 that the company has made significant changes to costuming, he said, and it’s also the first time since 2019 that Sanford Placide of Dance Theater of Harlem has come to town to play the role of the Nutcracker and the Cavalier. “He danced in our 2018 and 2019 productions,” Johnson said. “We’re really lucky to have him.”

Ballet Northwest “Nutcracker” Act II pas de deux 2019 (dancers Sanford Placide and Elina Brein).

Jolie Alonso and Nina Ivanenko are sharing the role of the Sugarplum Fairy. Playing Clara are Grace Collins, a freshman at Capital High School, and Ava Lund, a junior at Washington Connections Academy.

The Studio West production features Cole McMason and Hannah Smith, both longtime Studio West dancers who are now dancing professionally with Ballet Tucson. McMason and Smith, who are a couple, will play the Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy in the first four performances. The final two shows will feature Morgan Dreher, a senior at Olympia High School, as Sugar Plum and James Johnson, also a senior at Olympia, as Cavalier.

Ballet Northwest “Nutcracker” Snow scene 2019.

James Johnson will also share the role of Nutcracker with Aidan Hodo, a sophomore at Capital High School. Dancing the role of Clara are Abigail Erickson and Natalie Bowers, both sophomores at Olympia High School.

Studio West’s production also features the work of an offstage guest artist, lighting designer and stage manager Scott Weathers, who’s been working with the company since its first “Nutcracker” in 2010. Leathers of Nashville is the resident lighting designer for both Nashville Ballet and Nashville Children’s Theater.

WHAT
Studio West Dance Theatre’s “The Nutcracker”

WHEN
7 p.m. Nov. 25, 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 26, 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 27, 6 p.m. Nov. 28

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

TICKETS
$18-$30

LEARN MORE
360-753-8586, http://washingtoncenter.org

Studio West “Nutcracker” photos courtesy of Studio West

WHAT
Ballet Northwest’s “The Nutcracker”

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

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

TICKETS
$15-$36

LEARN MORE
360-753-8586, http://washingtoncenter.org

Ballet Northwest “Nutcracker” photos by Jerome Tso