Ready or not, signs of the Christmas season are beginning to spring up around the valley: Carols and ornaments fill store aisles, Christmas lights are going up and in the Dance Art Studio in Kalispell, dancers are wrapping up months of practice for this year’s production of the Nutcracker.
The ballet performance became an annual Thanksgiving-weekend event in Bigfork in 1993, when Carol Jakes, founder of the Northwest Ballet School and Company, first secured the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts. Since then, the “Nutcracker” has become a seasonal tradition, selling out each year and marking the beginning of the Christmas season.
“I love it. It’s one of my favorite times of year because downtown Bigfork is all lit up and we have the Nutcracker,” Celia Roessmann, 16, this year’s Arabian Princess, said. “It wouldn’t feel like Christmas-time if I wasn’t dancing in the Nutcracker.” This is Roessman’s eighth year dancing in the production.
Roessman isn’t an anomaly; several of the dancers at last week’s rehearsal echoed her sentiments, relaying long lists of past parts. There are 73 dancers in this year’s show, ranging in age from eight to their mid-50s. Those in the principal roles are almost all from the Northwest Ballet Company, while the smaller parts such as Flowers and Dewdrops are filled by students of all ages from the Northwest Ballet School. Students frequently appear in several roles over the years as they advance through the school.
Five area high school seniors this year will be starring in the main roles. Lindsey Schwickert and Lexie Conat will play the lead roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen, respectively. Director Marisa Roth said the two are best friends who grew up as neighbors in Whitefish and carpooled to dance class. “They’re great girls who’ve worked really hard and it’s awesome for them to have these parts together before they leave for college,” she said.
Other senior dancers will be Brie Webber, as the lead Dew Drop, Laura Syvertson, as the Jester, and Amber Blodgett, in the role of Spanish.
The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” by E.T.A. Hoffman. Although what’s seen on stage is different in detail from the original story and differs from company to company, the basic plot remains the same: A young girl dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King.
But that doesn’t mean the Bigfork show is always the same. Roth, who is in her first year as director of the school, said the show evolves each year, with new costumes, new dancers and choreography and casting tailored to each cast’s talents.
Roth, a Kalispell native, may be new to her position, but she is no stranger to the Nutcracker. She helped in the eight previous productions when she was an instructor at the school, and danced in her first NWB Nutcracker as a child in 1984.
“It’s a lot of work to get practice schedules and costumes and parts coordinated, but I’m lucky that there are so many people involved and helping,” Roth said. “It’s definitely not just me by my lonesome.”
Performances will be held at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts Friday, Nov. 23, and Saturday, Nov. 24, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 25, at 4 p.m. A Sugar Plum Parade with treats and a chance to meet the cast will follow the 2 p.m. shows. Reserved tickets are on sale at Books West in Kalispell and are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and $13 for children 12 and under.
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