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‘The Nutcracker’ to be performed Dec. 1 and 2
Clara (Paige Avila) and the Nutcracker. Photo by Hall Anderson

Daily News Staff Writer

In the words of Zachary Leighton, Ketchikan Theatre Ballet assistant artistic director, at Saturday’s rehearsal of “The Nutcracker,” the performers can’t “grr” with their face at their upcoming show — so they have to “grr” with their bodies.

They can’t show emotions with their face because many of them will be covered with costumes — whether it’s the head of the Nutcracker Prince or the heads of the many rats that the young performers will don at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 1, and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 in the Ketchikan High School auditorium.

Although an annual tradition “pretty much everywhere,” according to Leighton, this year's feature length ballet will have a few twists — but will still feel familiar. He based the ballet off of a 2011 version, and added several nuances to spice up his directorial debut.

“I think it’s going to be more what people expect and want from their ‘Nutcracker,’” Leighton said. “I tried to make it very traditional and very KTB traditional. I used Marguerite Auger’s format, but I didn’t take any of her choreography.

“I really wanted it to be this year’s ‘Nutcracker,’ but I wanted it to seem familiar and nostalgic,” he added. “People that are alumni or that have seen the show in the past, they’re going to get more what they’re expecting. … If you want your KTB ‘Nutcracker,’ there’s things for you. If you want something brand new that you haven’t seen before, there’s something there for you, too.”

Evy Posey, a sixth-grader who plays a rat, has been dancing since she was in preschool. She’s been in “The Nutcracker” several times, and can vouch for Leighton’s additions to the show.

“I’m really excited about how it’s kind of changed a bit,” Posey said, adding that there’s no mice in the play this year — only rats. “ It’s kind of been switched up over the past few years, there used to be mice. I was once a mice, and now I’m a rat — so it’s kind of like I’ve grown up.”

The story line will remain the same — Clara will still go to a Christmas party with her family and will be given a toy nutcracker from her Uncle Drosselmeyer, who is played by Peter Epler. Her brother Fritz will break it, and Drosselmeyer will fix it. Clara will leave it when she goes to bed, and that’s when the shenanigans start to happen.

Drosselmeyer will make a bunch of magic happen, and Clara will be transported to a magical place. There will be a battle between rats and soldiers, and the Nutcracker Prince will come out as a human and will fight for Clara. But, this year, Leighton did something different with the fight scene.

“There’s a new twist on that this year — you’ll have to come out and see how exactly that works out,” he said.

As far as the magic that takes place before and after the battle scene, dancer Shaundra Rhodes, who plays a flower, encourages families to come and bring their young ones.

“Honestly, I think it’s inspirational,” Rhodes said, “and it kind of builds up imagination.”

Although the audience will see Rhodes and her peers dance and sway across the stage, Leighton said there are some things they won’t see that play a huge role in the production — like costume, set and makeup volunteers putting in hours of work behind the scenes.

“That’s what you don’t see when (you’re watching) the show,” Leighton said. “You buy your ticket, you go to the theater, you get your program, and it’s like going to a movie — it just plays in front of you, and at the end, you clap. You don’t see the hours of sewing hooks and eyes on costumes.”

Nearly 50 dancers will soon make those costumes come to life individually, as Leighton took a look at the dancers’ strengths and personalities to make their role in the production shine.

Mrs. Stahlbaum will be played by Chasina Klein; Mr. Stahlbaum will be played by Largim Zhuta; Clara will be played by Paige Avila; and Fritz will be played by Brooklyn Wilet. Chasina Klein will play the Sugar Plum Fairy, and guest artist Nathan Powell will play the Cavalier.

“You’re really going to see dancers are showcased,” he said. “That’s going to go to the audience, and the audience is going to feel that from them.”