Homer’s production turns 21: Magic year for Nutcracker Ballet
It takes a town and more than 2 decades to keep the beloved script moving
By Naomi Klouda
When the curtain opens on this year’s Nutcracker Ballet, young Clara, played by Alyssa VanLiere, isn’t alone in her daydreams. Her younger brother, Fritz, played by Flynn Bloom, is marching with tin soldiers and generally annoying his highly imaginative, angelic sister.
In this 21st year of the Homer production of the Nutcracker Ballet, the plot changes slightly – as it has in most other years. However, one detail remains the same: it takes dozens of talented and committed Homer youth to stage this production. Many of them are seasoned actors and dancers by now, who have been devoted to this timeless classic since they were in elementary school.
The Nutcracker Ballet, already 109 years old, takes on new breadth each year by keeping the script in movement, said Director Jill Berryman. It’s not too much to detract from Alexandre Dumas’ original adaptation of the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” by E.T.A. Hoffman, but it’s enough to keep it fresh.
“It’s like that saying, ‘it kind of depends on making the pie’ – you see the kids and see where their abilities are, and then you go from there,” Berryman said. “We come together a lot with the costumes. There’s a lot going into deciding which new country we will visit this year.”
Berryman – working with local young people she has often known since they first learned the Nutcracker nuances of being mice and lambs – has been doing this all 21 years of the production in Homer.
In fact, she’s who started it all.
HOMER TRIBUNE/Sean Pearson - Rhoslynn Jennings leaps in her performance during the Nutcracker Ballet dress rehearsal on Monday night at Homer High School.
The musical stays fresh for her every year by “changing it out,” she said. “The kids grow up and change. It’s really nice to have them in different roles,” she said. “(And) we picked up tunes (this year) from Paris Boulevard – a style of music you hear when you stroll down the boulevard in Paris.”
Homer High School seniors Rhoslyn Jennings and Morgan Edminster will be performing for their 10th year straight.
“They’ve been with this since they were in the second grade, and have just really risen to the top,” Berryman said.
Another long-standing performer is Willy Dunne, who takes the stage as Uncle Drosselmeyer in this year’s production. Dunne, a fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, first started in the production with his daughter, Jenny, when she was five or six years old. Now she is a sophomore at the University of Washington.
“I’ve watched a couple of generations grow up with the Nutcracker,” Dunne said. “We first saw it in 1989 when Jenny was just a baby. When she was a few years old, she dreamed of being in it, and started out as a mouse. Then she progressed to a lamb, and a jester, and one year she was an oriental dancer.”
HOMER TRIBUNE/Sean Pearson - Jesters and monkeys fill the stage as part of the 21st-annual production of Homer's Nutcracker.
This year, as an “empty-nester,” Dunne said he has especially enjoyed the interactions with the Nutcracker children. In his role as uncle, he allows the full-blown child within to emerge.
“I feel like I am just a big kid myself. I hope I never grow up,” Dunne said. “I always thought of (Uncle Drosselmeyer) as a mysterious uncle who really connects with the children and doesn’t interact with the adults much. He’s about the fun and mystery of Christmas.”
Dunne agreed that each Nutcracker ends up being different from the last by adding new twists.
“Jill is really good at throwing in new things so that it’s never stale,” he said. “Each year, you see new energy from different kids. She is always open to suggestions from them, and open to the creative process.”
While hesitant to give too much of this year’s play away, Dunne hinted that Uncle Drosselmeyer leaves Austria and goes to America this time to learn musical traditions from people in Appalachia.
Even productions in New York or other major American cities have nothing over the local production. The Homeric ballet is lit by professional lighting artist Mandy Ringer, who said she can compare it to other Nutcracker performances she has worked on.
HOMER TRIBUNE/Sean Pearson - A juggling jester livens things up during the dream sequence of the Nutcracker.
“She runs four theaters in New York City,” Berryman said. “A friend sent her to us and she fell in love with Homer and all of us. We have hand-painted murals by these artists, and she was telling me that there was this one production (of the Nutcracker) that had card board trees” in New York.
It apparently takes the whole town to produce the Nutcracker. About 75 people are actors or dancers, 12 of those adults. Another 25 people provide technical assistance and do backstage work. It takes those who act, or dance, and those that can feed them. Berryman said the tired, hungry rehearsers were fed duck soup the other night and homemade bread from Two Sisters Bakery, one of the faithful who keep showing up with sustenance so the show can go on.
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Posted by Newsroom
on Dec 2nd, 2009 and filed under Arts
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