“As full of magic as the story it tells,” reviewer Jan O’Meara called the Homer Nutcracker Ballet in the Dec. 14, 1989, issue of the Homer News. “From start to finish it was completely enchanting.”
That magic continues with the 25th production of the Homer Nutcracker Ballet, the homegrown, small-town version of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet. The Nutcracker opens with performances at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, and continues Dec. 8, 13 and 14. All performances and all seats are $10 (see box, this page).
This isn’t the traditional Tchaikovsky production, though. Now in its third year under newer directors Sabrena “Breezy” Berryman and Jennifer Norton, as before they have taken Tchaikovsky’s tale of a young girl who falls in love with an enchanted prince back to its 19th century roots of the original tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Tchaikovsky wrote his ballet based on an adaptation by Alexandre Dumas of Hoffmann’s story.
Berryman and producer Ken Castner are the only veterans of the first Homer Nutcracker Ballet. Berryman’s mother, Jill Berryman first directed the ballet with her mom’s sister, Jennifer Strelkauskas. Breezy Berryman danced the role of Clara.
“Innocence personified — fragile, wistful and completely believable,” O’Meara wrote of her performance.
Castner has stayed producer for 25 years. This year marks another milestone, Castner noted, with the first of a second generation of dancers performing. Anna Springer, the daughter of Emilie Springer, appears as one of the small rodents, the traditional starting role for new ballerinas in the Homer Nutcracker Ballet. Her mother, then Emilie Jackinsky, performed as Clara in the 1995 production.
The Homer Nutcracker Ballet has often featured young male and female dancers who from mice to prima ballerinas have worked their way up the ranks.
“We have quite a few remarkable senior dancers this year,” Norton said. “We have five senior girls who have been in it forever.”
Appearing for the last time are Brittney Bordner, Katherine Dolma, Dannie Mei Finch, Heidi Kaufman and Elsa Simmons. Bordner returns as Clara with the other girls all in major roles.
They’re joined by Kaveh Anderson, Kaec Brinster and Josh Vantrease, three graduating senior boys with lead roles. Vantrease has one of the showiest roles, the evil, menacing King Rodent.
For the 25th production, the directors delve further into the Gothic fantasy elements of Hoffmann’s story, covering what had last year been presented as the prologue, “The Tale of the Hard Nut.” That tells how Princess Purlipat, played by Vianne Sarber, gets transformed into a nutcracker by the Mistress Mousie, one of Kaufman’s roles. Peter Norton, as Uncle Drosselmeier, narrates the story. His on-stage Uncle Drosselmeier doppleganger is Daniel Bolton.
Drosselmeier must lift the curse by finding the Crackutuck nut. If a young man can crack the nut with his teeth and present it to Princess Purlipat, and then walk seven steps backward, the curse will be lifted.
Such a handsome man, played by visiting dancer Vincent Michael Lopez, appears and saves the day, only to suffer the nutcracker curse when he steps on Mistress Mousie. Horrified by his ugliness, Purlipat turns away from him.
If a woman can be found who accepts him as he is, then perhaps the curse will again be lifted. But who? Drosselmeier has an idea — his niece, Clara.
That’s the common theme in both Tchaikovsky’s ballet and Hoffmann’s story: how love can heal.
“It should have that little Christmas message in it always,” Castner said.
Norton and Berryman have brought in a bit of Lewis Carroll, too. The castle scene, a showcase of dances first choreographed by Jill Berryman, takes a nod to Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” with the Queen and King of Cards. There might be some other Wonderland elements, such as the Cheshire Cat.
As in the earlier Norton and Berryman productions, there also will be some Steampunk elements. Steampunk, a term coined by science fiction writer K.W. Jeter, mixes Victorian social mores with 19th century technology. A mechanical orchestra performs new compositions by Jane Kilcher, on keyboards, with Angela Brock, bass, and Katie Klann and Kelsey Waldorf on violin. Cody Davidson also has a Steampunk-style composition in the Sugar Plum and Battle scenes.
“We have two composers represented here,” Norton said. “It’s very cool.”
That willingness to keep the production fresh and constantly experiment is what keeps the
Homer Nutcracker going and people coming back year after year, Castner said.
“It’s about the duration and the change,” he said of its silver anniversary. “We’ve always said, ‘Is this entertaining or just for us?’ It’s always had to be entertaining.”
In the early years, what
kept the Homer Nutcracker going was simple, Castner said.
“The deciding factor to do the second year was, we built all the sets,” he said.
As the longtime producer, Castner said he has made his job a little easier. In the first years he would be up until 2 a.m. for two months.
He said he’ll keep being producer until it becomes apparent the right person can take over, just as it became apparent that Breezy Berryman and Norton could take over from Jill Berryman.
Not that he plans to leave, but Castner did give a hint that in 2014 he might scale back his role a bit. In 27 years he hasn’t visited his parents for Thanksgiving, and they’re getting older.
“Next year I’ll go east for Thanksgiving,” he said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer Nutcracker Ballet
25th anniversary production
Dec. 7, 3 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8, 3 p.m.
Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14, 3 p.m.
$10 all seats, all shows, on sale at the Homer Bookstore and River City Books, Soldotna
From the ballet by Tchaikovsky and based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”
Artistic directors: Sabrena (Breezy) Berryman and
Choreographer: Sabrena Berryman
Rehearsal Assistant: Anne Gittinger
Technical Directors: Harmon Hall, Dicran Kassouni
Stage Manager: Stu Schmutzler
Sound Director and Composition:
Cody Davidson (Red 5)
Lighting design: Kathleen Gustafson, Curtis Jackson,
Special guest artist (Nutcracker):
Vincent Michael Lopez
King of Cards: Kaveh Anderson
Clara: Brittney Bordner
Steampunk Doll, Battle Nutcracker, Palanquin Bearer, Russian Spade: Kaec Brinster
Queen of Cards, Snow Crystal: Katherine Dolma
Queen of Hearts, Snow Crystal:
Dannie Mei Finch
Mistress Mousie, Snow Crystal, Silver Phoenix, Russian Spade:
Queen of Spades, Queen of Ice and Snow:
King Rodent, Wolf, Chef, Silver Sultan, Russian Spade:
Princess Purlipat: Vianne Sarber
Prince of Spades: Charlie Rohr
Uncle Drosselmeier: Daniel Bolton
Uncle Drosselmeier (narrator): Peter Norton
Harlequin Knave: Quinn Alward
Mechanical Orchestra: Angela Brock, bass; Jane Kilcher, composer and keyboards; Katie Klann, violin; Kelsey Waldorf, violin