Staff photo/Heather Spaulding
                                Left to right: Henry Jensen as the nutcracker and Lila Horn as Clara.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding Left to right: Henry Jensen as the nutcracker and Lila Horn as Clara.

The Salish Sea Ballet presents the “Nutcracker,” island style

When watching the young dancers plie, leap and twirl across the floor to the upbeat rhythm of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plums,” it is easy to see their dedication to the Salish Sea Ballet’s upcoming performance “The Nutcracker” has paid off.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is just such a part of the holiday tradition,” said Jeanne Peihl, the troupe’s owner and director, explaining why she chose the classic ballet.

This year the Salish Sea’s production will be at Brickworks, Saturday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. Tickets are at www.salishseaballet.com, for $25, ages eight and younger, and $30, ages nine and older. The price includes tea and holiday treats, as well as a chance to meet the stars after the show.

Peihl has been dancing for as long as she can remember, taking ballet, jazz, tap and other genres of dance while she was in elementary and high school. Once in college, ballet became her focus. She saw a niche needed to be filled in the islands when she and her husband moved to Friday Harbor in 2013. So she opened the Salish Sea Ballet. It was only natural a nutcracker performance was on her list, being a classic show for dancers.

“The Nutcracker” was written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It features a young girl named Clara at her family’s Christmas party. Clara is given a nutcracker as a gift by her wizard-like uncle, which gets broken by one of the boys. Clara is upset and dreams the doll comes to life and is fighting an army of rats. After she saves the nutcracker by killing the rat king with her shoe, the nutcracker turns into a prince and takes her to the Land of Sweets.

Choreographer George Balanchine popularized the ballet in the United States, after his New York rendition in 1954. The story and music have now become an integral part of the Christmas tradition, to the point where Nutcracker performances currently account for nearly half of ballet troupes ticket sales across the nation.

“Most troupes start auditioning for ‘The Nutcracker’ in August, and while most other shows usually last a couple of weeks, ‘The Nutcracker’ performances usually last almost a month,” Peihl said, noting that most professional dancers have the music memorized, as they listen to it five months out of the year.

Clara, in the Salish Sea performance, is played by Lili Horn and the nutcracker is performed by Henry Jensen. The Sugar Plum Fairy is played by Annabelle Mountford. The entire cast includes 15 dancers ranging in ages from 4 to 15. Mountford and Capucine Guillon, two high schoolers, are en pointe trained dancers, which refers to the type of shoe worn. It takes at least three years of training to become an en pointe dancer, with three days a week classes during that time, Peihl explained. In other words, if a dancer is learning en pointe, she is serious about ballet. Peihl is excited to have en pointe dancers in “The Nutcracker” production for the first time this year.

“We kind of have to work with what we have in this small community,” Peihl said, noting the first performance was only an approximately 20-minute free dance for the Life Care Center. Two years later the show has evolved to include more dancers and has become a modern, local version of the original tale. In the show, the families arrive to the party by ferry boat, for example, Peihl said. There will be lavender flowers as a tip of the hat to the island’s lavender farm during the dance of the flowers, and dancing orcas, played by the youngest in the troupe.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is an outside commitment to their ballet,” Peihl said. These students are continuing their regular ballet classes as well as the rehearsals, and she has been impressed by their dedication, she said. Auditions occurred around the first week of September, meaning these young dancers are invested in a four-month project.

The cast, Peihl mentioned, has formed strong friendships during the production, helping each other with scenes, and change of costume.

“It is an incredible group of kids. They work really hard to make this happen,” Peihl said.

For info, visit www.salishseaballet.com.