Ketchikan Theatre Ballet rehearses holiday tradition

Bella Roberts readies to réverénce to her Cavalier while rehearsing in a mirror for the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in the Ketchikan Theatre Ballet production “The Nutcracker” on Tuesday at KTB. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

With Thanksgiving leftovers still stowed away in the fridge, the First City is already gearing up for the holiday season, and Ketchikan Theatre Ballet’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker” is one of the first events up on the Christmas celebration agenda.

The classic ballet was developed in the late 1800’s by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

The story follows a young girl named Clara who finds a friend in a Nutcracker doll that has come to life, and finds herself waging war against the villainous Mouse King.

Elizabeth Schultz, the executive director of KTB, told the Daily News that she believed that KTB had been performing the classic ballet for decades.

“It started with excerpts from the ballet and it just kept growing and growing and growing,” said Schultz, who has been involved with six total productions of “The Nutcracker.”

Schultz, who said she “has lots of ‘Nutcracker’ experience,” performed in “The Nutcracker” many times as a young dancer.

“Just like any kid in dance growing up, you do the ‘Nutcracker,’” she said. “For me, the Minnesota Ballet toured and they’d come and they’d cast local kids to do various parts.”

Schultz remembered that she played the main role of Clara amongst other smaller roles.

“Dance has been my whole life, basically,” she said.

Now, she directs other young dancers through the same ballet each year.

“We have over 60 kids, so there’s a really good chance that you know somebody in the show,” Schultz said.

Some roles required auditions, while others were assigned based on the dancer’s level with KTB.

“There were auditions for the roles of Clara and Fritz, who are kind of the main characters in act one,” Schultz explained.

To audition for Clara, a dancer must be between levels four and seven with KTB. For the role of Fritz, it was only required that the performer be between the ages of 8 and 12, as Fritz’s character relies heavily on acting as opposed to dancing.

This year, Clara will be portrayed by Bristol Albrant. Kate Pader will play the role of Fritz.

Lower-level KTB dancers will perform as Christmas cookies or “party scene kids,” Schultz said. Higher level or senior company dancers —  who range in age from 14 to 18 —  may perform in bigger roles as the sugar plum fairy or the Snow Queen.

The sugar plum fairy will be played by Bella Roberts, while Emilee Enright will take on the role of the dewdrop fairy. The Snow Queen will be portrayed by Devyn Sader.

Other main roles include Drosselmeyer, played by Clare Bennet, and Dr. Stahlbaum, played by Phillip Smith.

“So it’s kind of like a rite of passage: every year you get to do a different role,” Schultz said about the process of selecting dancers for each role.

“I think it’s fun for the community to kind of watch kids grow up and progress in their technique and their talent and their passion,” Schultz continued. “Every year you get a little more committed and a little bit stronger as a dancer and its kind of like a litmus test — you know, you can see the progression really clearly for all the dancers.”

Even with such a large cast of dancers, there is plenty of work to be done in rehearsals.

“The Nutcracker” is a two-act ballet with complicated choreography, so the dancers have all been working since early fall to perfect their parts.

“It’s a full-length ballet, and so the choreography they’re doing is choreography you would see in a professional show,” Schultz said. “It’s not like a recital (where) you learn a little dance and you put it on. It’s a full-length ballet.”

Each year, some aspects of the choreography and the performance change.

“We usually try to add new choreography each year, it kind of depends on how many guest male dancers we have, what the strengths are of the dancers, …. so we just kind of work with whoever the cast is to try and bring out the best in them,” Schultz said.

“This year we have new Chinese choreography,” Schultz continued. “Historically, ‘Nutcracker’ has used a lot of kind of harmful Asian stereotypes —  so the dance community is really talking about, ‘how can we make it not so offensive?’”

To update the potentially offensive aspects of the ballet, Schultz said she took inspiration for the Chinese-inspired choreography from traditional tea services.

Additionally, “The Nutcracker” will feature Stacey Badgett Jr. and Michael Jacinto, two men who are professional dancers and came to Ketchikan just for the performance, Schultz said.

With their assistance, the KTB dancers will be able to start practicing complicated, two-person choreography, such as lifts and throws.

Schultz said that having the two new dancers to work with “is a really exciting and nerve-wracking process for the dancers because we don’t have male dancers here, so then they’re (the KTB dancers) getting picked up and doing all these kinds of intricate things and you know, it’s fun, but it’s also complicated and they don’t have a lot of time to work with the dancers.”

“It’s a pretty cool experience for them,” she added.

KTB moved rehearsals from the dance studio on Mission Street to the Ketchikan High School auditorium on Friday. The move will allow the dancers to better practice intricate choreography that demands higher ceilings, Schultz explained.

The annual show will open at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 at the Ketchikan High School auditorium. A second performance will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7.