Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Although the Nutcracker continued through the pandemic, this was the first year it returned without any restrictions.
Juneau Dance Theatre (JDT) presented The Nutcracker this weekend, Friday through Sunday, at the Juneau Douglas High School Auditorium.
This year's production featured guest artists, Elizabeth Murphy, principal dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Zachary Catazaro, principal dancer with the Cleveland Ballet.
Costumes, scenery, and choreography were by JDT'S Artistic Director, Zachary Hench.
Murphy was in the 2019 production of The Nutcracker.
"We are honored to bring Liz back to Juneau to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy. Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of the premiere professional ballet companies in the world. We are excited to present these artists-ballet dancers of the highest quality to our Juneau community," said Hench.
Catazaro was the Sugar Plum Fairy's "Cavalier".
The Nutcracker follows the curious journey of young Clara (Brigitte Ouellette) who receives a nutcracker as a gift at her family's Christmas Eve party.
The nutcracker quickly transforms into a handsome prince, (Viktor Bell) leading her through a magical forest to the Land of Sweets.
It's there that Clara meets the Sugar Plum Fairy (Murphy), who shows her captivating performances by dancers.
The Nutcracker cast includes more than 80 JDT students and adults, ranging in age from 5-78 years old.
The 4-performance run featured multiple casts, featuring the talent within the school and providing opportunities for dancers to stand out in solo and principal roles.
On Friday, prior to public show times, JDT presented a free outreach performance for over 800 elementary students.
Catherine Fowle, Principal Teacher and Ballet Master, talked with News of the North about the performances.
"As the ballet master, my job is to stage the choreography and practice every week. We've been practicing since September. It has been going really well. We've had an unprecedented amount of illnesses and injuries this year. And I've been really proud of how the students have risen to the occasion. We had kids learning roles 30 minutes before the curtain went up. I was extremely proud of that, you wouldn't know from the audience. And I think that's a testament to their professionalism and teamwork."
She shared her personal experience.
"I have a fondness for the Nutcracker because it was the first live ballet I'd ever seen. And I know that's the case for a lot of other individuals. Their first exposure to live dance was the Nutcracker. Kids see other kids on stage and, they say, well, I think I could do that. Seeing the Nutcracker made me want to pursue it at a higher level. It made me seek out better training so I could go up on the stage and perform. The next year I was a member of The Nutcracker cast. Nutcracker made me realize that this is something I wanted to do for a living."
Fowle teaches students levels 2 through 6, and all levels of pointe and variations. She is also JDT's Outreach Coordinator.
Fowle spoke about watching her students advance throughout the years. She's been involved in teaching with the Nutcracker for six years and started performing in the Nutcracker when she was 11.
"I've worked with students who are cheese, it's our most probably introductory role, students might be as young as five years old. I see them now dancing with their pointe shoes on stage. It's really rewarding to be a part of that process and to watch their growth every year."
Above: Clara (Ouellette) meets The Nutcracker, (Bell) as alive for the first time. Below: Murphy and Catazara dance an elegant Grand Pas de Deux.
JDT will also premiere a January Winter Showcase, and perform again in April for their annual Spring Showcase at JDHS.