Viktor Bell rehearses his role in “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, Nov. 27. Lead soldiers Grace Bultez and Ainsley Mallott stand guard. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Viktor Bell rehearses his role in “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, Nov. 27. Lead soldiers Grace Bultez and Ainsley Mallott stand guard. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

‘The Nutcracker’ returns to the stage

Family tradition returns with four live shows this weekend

This story has been updated to correct a name.

As holiday traditions go, a trip to see “The Nutcracker” tops the list for many families. After a year off due to the pandemic, the quintessential holiday activity is back.

Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of the holiday classic will be on stage for four performances with a live audience this weekend after COVID-19 forced the company to stage an online-only production last year.

“It’s awesome to be back,” said Bridget Lujan, executive director of Juneau Dance Theatre, in a Wednesday morning interview. “It’s been two years since we had live performances and the dancers are excited.”

Lujan said she expects the show to be emotional after so many months without a live performance.

Maggie Musselwhite rehearses her role as the Baby Mouse on Sat. Nov. 24. She will perform in “The Nutcracker” this weekend. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Maggie Musselwhite rehearses her role as the Baby Mouse on Sat. Nov. 24. She will perform in “The Nutcracker” this weekend. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

“I’ll be crying through the whole show,” Lujan said. “The snow, the waltzes, the flowers, the dancing — it’s all so pretty.”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” tells the story of young Clara, “who receives a nutcracker as a gift at her family’s Christmas Eve party. Later that night, her nutcracker magically transforms into a handsome prince, who leads her through an enchanted forest and to the Land of Sweets,” according to a news release from the Juneau Dance Theatre.

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The show involves a large cast of dancers of various ages, several scene changes, and elaborate costumes — many of which were only used once after debuting in the 2019 show.

Baila Ouellette, who is portraying a mouse in the Juneau Dance Theatre’s staging of “The Nutcracker,” attempts to snatch a piece of cheese, portrayed by Ari Bay in the Nov. 24 dress rehearsal. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Baila Ouellette, who is portraying a mouse in the Juneau Dance Theatre’s staging of “The Nutcracker,” attempts to snatch a piece of cheese, portrayed by Ari Bay in the Nov. 24 dress rehearsal. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Dancer Gabby Ely, who is portraying the Mouse King, said she shares Lujan’s excitement.

“It takes blood, sweat and tears among everyone and a lot of rehearsal hours. I’m really excited,” Ely said. “It feels really nice to go to the auditorium and be on the stage. The audience makes it such a privilege. It’s so hard to not have people there.”

Staged each year since the early 2000s, except for 2020, the show allows dancers to grow over time.

Artistic director Zachary Hench said the cast includes about 90 people, including guest artists Oksana Maslova, principal dancer with Philadelphia Ballet, and Anton Kandaurov, artistic director of ChamberSquared.

Hench said that Maslova and Jandaurov arrived in Juneau late Wednesday, just in time for a few rehearsals before the weekend’s performances.

He said the performance features the classic version of “The Nutcracker,” but he switches it up based on the dancers.

“We add to the show every year and as the level of the school has increased, I add more difficult choreography,” Hench said.

Ginger Patterson portrays Clara in the Juneau Dance Theatre’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker.” She rehearsed the role on Sat. Nov. 27. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Ginger Patterson portrays Clara in the Juneau Dance Theatre’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker.” She rehearsed the role on Sat. Nov. 27. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Ely, who has been dancing with the company for almost a decade, said it’s fun to participate in the progression. She said she’s looking forward to her titular swordfight scene when the Mouse King fights with the Nutcracker.

“I’ve been a mouse before and seen the scene. It’s really good to see the progression of different dancers of the acting and the fighting,” Ely said.

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The show must go on

Lujan and Hench said that COVID-19 mitigation measures, including masking, social distancing and proof of vaccination or a negative test, are in place for all audience members 12 years or older. Tickets won’t be sold at the door to ensure social distancing in the auditorium. Tickets will be available online at http://juneaudance.org/.

Lujan said Hench said that working through mitigation measures for dancers took some work, but over the months leading up to the show, the school created a list of protocols that allow the performance to proceed.

“There’s no getting around that there are 35 people on stage at times,” Hench said.

Brigitte Ouellette rehearses the role of Fritz along with Sachiko Marks, who is portraying a party goer in “The Nutcracker” rehearsal on Saturday, Nov. 27. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Brigitte Ouellette rehearses the role of Fritz along with Sachiko Marks, who is portraying a party goer in “The Nutcracker” rehearsal on Saturday, Nov. 27. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

But, both said the work was worth it to stage the live production with an audience.

“It feels extra special for our seniors,” Lujan said

Hench said the holiday feeling of the show is essential to its spirit.

“I’m thrilled because the show is the end goal,” Hench said. “So many kids sign up for ballet because they see ‘The Nutcracker.’ It’s fun to see the look in their eyes as they perform.”

Know & Go

What: “The Nutcracker”

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium, 1639 Glacier Ave.

Admission: General admission costs $20. Students and senior admission cost $15. Patrons much purchase tickets in advance and seating is limited. Ticket sales will close one hour before the curtain opens and no tickets will be sold at the door. Visit http://juneaudance.org/ to purchase tickets.

Good to Know: Dancers will perform the approximately 90-minute without an intermission.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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