A Tale of Two Nutcrackers

by Molly Gilmore

This time of year, The Nutcracker is pretty much ubiquitous — and a prime example of its popularity is right here in Olympia, where there are not one but two well-established productions. Between now and Christmas, the classic tale about a young girl’s dreams of battles, candy and fairies will unfold on the main stage of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts a whopping 14 times.

Ballet Northwest’s snow scene is always a highlight for co-director Ken Johnson. “It’s really magical,” he said. Photo by Jerome Tso.

Both the Studio West Dance Theatre production, opening Nov. 24, and the Ballet Northwest version, opening Dec. 8, are beloved traditions. Studio West first performed the ballet in 2009, and the venerable Ballet Northwest premiered its version in 1983.

“There’s always a buzz around The Nutcracker,” said Stephanie Wood-Ennett, the co-director of Studio West. “So many people feel that their holiday is not complete without it.”

Studio West’s production happens earlier than most, a schedule the company adopted in 2021; previously, its production was staged at The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts. “Coming out of COVID, we decided to give it a try,” Wood-Ennett said. “We were nervous about it, but it’s been great. People are so revved up and excited to jump into the spirit of Christmas.”

Ballet Northwest’s Nutcracker fight scene 2017. Photo by Jerome Tso.

She’s excited about guest dancers Cole McMason and Hannah Smith, both former Studio West dancers who now dance professionally with Ballet Tucson. They’re able to come home to dance the roles of the Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy, respectively, because the Arizona company takes a break for Thanksgiving.

At Ballet Northwest’s production, too, a guest dancer will be among the highlights: James Kirby Rogers, a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Rogers has danced in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker with the Seattle company, and he’ll perform as Cavalier in the Ballet Northwest production, too. “He is one of the top dancers in the country,” said Ballet Northwest co-director Ken Johnson. “We’re really blessed to have him performing with us.”

Elina Brein and Sanford Placide dance the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in Ballet Northwest’s 2018 Nutcracker. Photo by Jerome Tso.

Ballet Northwest’s 2023 production includes about 200 dancers and character artists ranging in age from 8 to 70, and there are 175 performers in the Studio West version. Some roles are shared among dancers, including most of the leads.

Ballet Northwest dancers Sela Bell and Audrey Nannini, both 17 and seniors at Olympia High School and Running Start at South Puget Sound Community College, will alternate in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Marius Williams, 18 and a senior at Tacoma School of the Arts, dances the role of Nutcracker. The role of Clara will be shared by Ivy Nakauye, 12 and in seventh grade at Meeker Middle School in Tacoma, and Jahnavi Baldini, 16 and a sophomore at Olympia.

Studio West Dance Theatre’s party scene is a favorite of Stephanie Wood-Ennett, the company’s co-director. Gianna Zabolio, now a junior at Capital High School, dances the role of toy soldier in 2022. Photo by Heather Chard.

In the Studio West production, McMason and Smith will dance in the 7 p.m. performances and at 1 p.m. Sunday; at the other performances, Aidan Hodo, 16 and a junior at Capital High School, will play the Cavalier, and Katelyn Beaulieu, 18 and a senior at Black Hills High School, will dance the Sugar Plum Fairy. Studio West’s Claras are Kate Abbott, 15 and a sophomore at River Ridge High School, and Kabella Graves, 15 and a sophomore at Olympia. Sharing the role of Nutcracker are Hodo and Jones Dillard-Disston, 14 and a freshman at Capital.

WHAT
Studio West Dance Theatre’s The Nutcracker

WHEN
7 p.m. Nov. 24, 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 25, 1 and 5 p.m. Nov. 26 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 27

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

TICKETS
$18-$34

LEARN MORE
https://www.washingtoncenter.org/organizer/studio-west-dance-theatre

— and —

WHAT
Studio West Dance Theatre’s Clara’s Nutcracker Party

WHEN
1 p.m. Nov. 25 and noon Nov. 26

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

TICKETS
$16 for children, with accompanying adults admitted free

LEARN MORE
https://www.studiowestdanceacademy.com/theatre/

WHAT
Ballet Northwest’s The Nutcracker

WHEN
7:30 p.m. Dec. 8, 9, 15 and 16 and 2 p.m. Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17

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

TICKETS
$17-$38

LEARN MORE
https://www.washingtoncenter.org/organizer/bnw/