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KTB’s ‘The Nutcracker’ returns to grace holidays
A ballerina performs on Sunday during the annual Nutcracker Tea at the Ketchikan Pioneer Home. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

The grace, sparkle and pageantry of “The Nutcracker” will usher in the Christmas season this coming weekend.

The Ketchikan Theatre Ballet has been rehearsing for months to offer their annual performance of the ”The Nutcracker” to Ketchikan audiences. Artistic Director Elizabeth Schultz said attendees with see some new costumes this year, and can opt to attend a hand-made dinner before Friday’s performance.

The two-act ballet, which has a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, premiered in December 1892, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Schultz said that in this year’s Ketchikan performance, there is a heightened vitality, especially in one of the dances.

“Russian is really fun this year. It’s really high energy and they’ve got some fun tricks in there,” Schultz said.

A male dancer from New York City and one from the Los Angeles area will perform in the shows, Schultz said, and that offers some delightful challenges for the Ketchikan dancers.

“Having that extra level of professionalism always kind of brings the level of the production up,” Schultz explained, “and doing the partnering stuff is just so exciting for the girls — to have that experience — because it’s really fun to dance with somebody who can lift you up and do these kind of cool tricks.”

Two Ketchikan High School men also will perform this year, Brock King and Katlian Blankenship.

Schultz said that one change the studio has made in the past couple of years has been to allow dancers as young as six years old to dance in the performance.

“It’s always fun to see the little ones one stage,” she said.

She added that including the younger dancers also helps her, as director, to measure those dancers as they progress year to year. Also, it’s just great for the kids.

“More and more kids want more opportunities to be on stage,” Schultz said. “It’s an incentive for them, it’s fun. It’s part of the holiday tradition.”

Another new addition to this year’s performance is local actor Clare Bennett, who will play Fraulein Drosselmeyer. That role, traditionally, is lead character Clara’s toymaker godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, who gives a nutcracker doll to Clara as a gift.

Schultz grinned as she explained Bennett’s reprisal of the traditional role.

“It’s a little bit scandalous, because it takes place in Victorian times and she’s wearing pants and she’s kind of a single woman in this time when you should be married,” she said, grinning.

Schultz also described what Bennett will bring to the performance.

“She’s magical on stage,” she said.

Bennett also has been helping the dancers to learn basic acting skills, such as what to do with their hands while they are in the background of a scene.

The character Clara will be played by Braidyn Young this year, and Lily Pader will play Clara’s brother Fritz.

Schultz said that Ketchikan offers unique opportunities in offering a full-length “Nutcracker” performance every year, and featuring students in nearly every role.

“It’s a full-length ballet. It’s a big thing to put on the shoulders of the kids to do,” she explained. “Normally, it’s a professional endeavor.”

She said that most ballet schools will produce only an excerpt of “The Nutcracker,” or offer a full-length performance every two or three years. Often schools will hire professional dancers for all of the big roles, and allow the students only to fill the small parts.

“To do a production of this caliber, with all the set pieces and all the costume pieces at this kind of level for just a community dance school is really cool,” Schultz said. “We can’t do that without the kids working really hard, and the parents working really hard.”

Schultz added that the KTB production really is a community production.

“It works in Ketchikan because we have so many people that step up,” she said.

Kayhi senior Claire Rhein, who plays Clara’s mother, a Russian dancer and the Sugar Plum Fairy, said she has been dancing in the annual “Nutcracker” productions since she was 11 years old.

“We do ‘The Nutcracker’ the same every year, but there’s always different people doing different things,” Rhein said. “I think part of what’s so great about it in this town is people always know someone who’s in it, and they always know someone who’s graduating.”

She also spoke of how grateful she was that she is part of KTB, where she has been allowed extensive experience in dancing in “The Nutcracker” every year. She said she is very aware that if she lived most other places, she would have much fewer opportunities.

“I’m really thankful for this,” she said, adding “It’s really special.”

Rhein plans to attend the University of Wyoming next fall, where she will work toward a bachelor of fine arts in dance, with a plan to become a professional dancer.

Eighth-grader Domenica Troina, who will fill the roles of a snowflake and a jester doll in the show, also has clear career goals.

“I know I want to be a professional dancer,” she said. “I realized that this summer.”

Domenica, who has been dancing with KTB for 10 years, said that the most challenging part of preparing for “The Nutcracker” has been getting the steps down and not getting frustrated.

“I think this is one of the hardest years, but it’s the most fun we’ve had in a long time,” she said.

Central to the increasing challenge, Domenica said, has been learning to dance on pointe for the first time.

Fellow dancers Ella Stockhausen, Kelsey O’Brien and Katie Bolling, also eighth-graders and 10-year veterans of KTB, agreed.

“Pointe work is hard for me,” Ella said. “It hurts really bad.”

Ella, who will play a Scottish doll and dance in “Waltz of the Flowers,” explained that it possibly is a little more difficult for her because her feet aren’t naturally as flexible as some others.

She said she still is very much looking forward to the performances, however.

“I’m really excited this year for my role,” Ella said. “It’s my first role on pointe and it’s my first time dancing by myself.”

Kelsey, who will dance as a snowflake and a cat, said that working on having the stamina to dance the longer pieces, as well as learning to perform on pointe, are challenges this year.

“Getting up from the floor and doing it again after you’ve just danced for seven minutes” is tough, Kelsey said, as well as “dancing for so long on your toes.”

Katie, who will dance as a maid and a flower, said she isn’t performing on pointe in “The Nutcracker,” but agreed that building up physical stamina is a tough one, as this will be her first time performing on stage in a dance more than five minutes long.

Domenica explained that Schultz supports the dancers by counseling them with nutrition and exercise advice.

The girls also agreed on the positive experiences that keep them dancing. They laughed as they shared memories of dancing together in a performance when they were 4 years old, as lions.

“One of the most fun things was being with all these people,” Katie said. “They’re probably my favorite people.”

Kelsey said, “We have an amazing director who’s so encouraging and our group is just a family.”

Rhein mentioned another important aspect to dancing with KTB as a senior member.

“I think it’s kind of why they’ve done younger ones in ‘The Nutcracker,’ she said. “It’s really good for the little kids to see us dancing, to dance with us, because then they have something to look up to.”

Domenica agreed.

“If I think about who I looked up to when I was little, it was senior company. It was like: celebrities,” she said.

She also explained that with seniors moving on after graduation each year, that “each year, you build a new family.”

Rhein said that when the younger dancers see how the older students are like a family, “it’s good for them to see. They look forward to that too — not just the dance part.”

Rhein and Domenica also mentioned another benefit as getting all the hugs from the young dancers.

Rhein summarized the core joy she gets out of “The Nutcracker” performances in Ketchikan.

“I just think it’s cool that our community is so involved with it,” she said.

“The Nutcracker” performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Kayhi auditorium with the optional dinner to start at 5:30 that night. The second performance is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 in the Kayhi auditorium. For more information, visit www.ketchikan.dance/nutcracker or email