As a winter wind whipped outside, Marisa Roth and Mackenzie Heaton stood alone in the Northwest Ballet School dance studio in Kalispell. For the most part, other than when the Nutcracker soundtrack vibrated the room or Roth yelled encouragement over the music, things were calm.
Nothing compared to what the backstage of the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts will look like this weekend when the Northwest Ballet Company presents its 18th annual showing of the Nutcracker.
Backstage is always different, Morgan Sego, 17, of Kalispell, said. Up front, under the lights and on stage, everything is picture perfect, or so they hope. But backstage chaos reigns. People are running around, props are being set up and performers are dressing and undressing, hastily readying for their next call to the stage.
“It’s just always been a part of me,” Sego said about ballet. “I don’t like to say that’s who I am, because it’s not all I am, but I can’t see myself without it.”
As a child Sego had boundless energy and dance became an outlet for that. She has, however, been partial to ballet since she first saw a performance by the Northwest Ballet Company.
Since joining the ballet company, Sego has performed in a variety of recitals and shows, but none as meaningful as the Nutcracker. This marks the fifth year that Sego has been in the Nutcracker and every time has been special.
“It’s magical,” she said. “It has that joyful spirit to it.”
Roth, director and owner of the ballet school, said even though the story and songs remain the same each year, there are ways to make each performance unique and much of that has to do with how the performers embrace their character.
“I like that it can be different every year,” Roth said. “Even if the story and song are the same I like to set it to my cast.”
Roth said finding that balance between the traditional and new is what brings the audience back every year. It is also what has brought Mackenzie Heaton, 17, back for a fifth and final year performing in the Nutcracker. This year, she also has the special honor of performing as the Sugar Plum Ferry, one of the most important roles in the ballet.
Like Sego, dance has always been a part of Heaton’s life, as was going to the ballet company’s annual show in Bigfork, back when her older sister was on stage.
“Nutcracker was my favorite night of the year because I got to dress up,” Heaton said. “It was second only to Christmas.”
Now, after being involved with the performance for five years, Heaton said Nutcracker weekend outranks Christmas. She said the show was “classic” and “legendary,” but she knows that this performance will be different from the last. Before she leaves the ballet company following her graduation from Flathead High School next year, Heaton said she can’t wait to emerge from backstage, leaving the hidden chaos behind the curtain for the final time.
“The fact that I only get to do this one more time means I have to give it my all,” she said.
But one thing that won’t change is what she will do before the curtain is swept away. Standing in the darkness, waiting for the hot lights to bear down one final time, she said, “I’ll say a little prayer and hope everything goes OK.”
The Northwest Ballet Company’s performance of the Nutcracker will take place this weekend at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts. Shows go on at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday and at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at The Bookshelf in Kalispell and cost $20 for adults, $17 for seniors, $15 for kids.
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