Story last updated at 2:34 p.m. Thursday, December 5, 2002

Nutcracker ANEW

Homer ballet enters its 14th year with a custom-made approach to Tchaikovsky's holiday musical

by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment

  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Members of the Nutcracker go through rehearsal for the production that will be presented this Saturday, Sunday, Friday, December 13 and Saturday, December 14.  
Wandering through the back halls of Mariner Theatre last weekend was akin to stepping into an alter-world, where teapots are big enough to sleep in, and young women and men have worked out ways to break from gravity.

Nutcracker Ballet

  • Where: Mariner Theatre

  • When: Saturday, 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 14, 3 p.m.

  • Tickets: $14 general admission, $12 for Homer Council on the Arts Members, $8 for youth 18 and under. Saturday's matinee, $10 general admission, $5 youth.

  • More Info: 235-4288

    photo: entertainment

      Photo by Carey James, Homer News
    Madalyn Wiard and Svea Olsen leap across the Mariner Theatre stage during a Nutcracker rehearsal Sunday.  
  • The "Nutcracker Ballet" preparations are moving at a fantastic pace as more than 100 dancers, prop designers, light technicians and support people turn the Homer stage into a portal to the magical world of the Nutcracker.

    This year's production contains many of the familiar characters, but with enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. For example, this year, Clara stays a young girl, played by Olivia Erickson, through the production, and the pas de deux dances with returning New York professional dancer Tracy Kofford are now danced by new roles, that of the Snow King and Queen and the Castle King and Queen.

    photo: entertainment

      Photo by Carey James, Homer News
    Katie Markelz refines her movements. Dancer Amanda Conley, below left, lines up her motions with the other dancers in preparation for this weekendpis opening performance.  
    The twists in the plot allow several young dancers to showcase their talent, including two seniors who have been performing in the ballet for many years. Jill Berryman, artistic director and choreographer of the ballet, who leads the production along with Ken Cast-ner, said the changes opened up a new dance for senior Lynn Bechtol, while splitting the queen roll between senior Katie Markelz, who played Dream Clara last year, and freshman Nikki Ervice.

    Freshman Kira Olson also dances a custom-made part in this year's production, a pas de deux with a Spanish flavor that highlights not only dance but dramatic intent.

    Berryman said several of the primary dancers in this year's production, including Ervice, attended summer dance camp this year, significantly increasing their technique.

    "They learned good extensive technique over the summer months," Berryman said. "It's great to be a dance teacher and choreographer right now."

    photo: entertainment

      Photo by Carey James, Homer News
    Dancer Amanda Conley lines up her motions with the other dancers in preparation for this weekendpis opening performance.  
    This year's im-ported talent, Kofford, hails from New York and has a masters from the New York Univers-ity School of the Arts. Kofford dances professionally with a company in the Big Apple and has also danced extensively with a California group. It is his second year with the Homer production.

    One of the challenges Berryman thought she would face this year was recruiting an entire new batch of dancing rats and other rolls typically played by male dancers. The entire cast from last year graduated, and Berryman said she wasn't sure she would find new recruits, but they appeared, and have thrown their heart and soul into the production.

    "These boys who have little or no dance training are out there really moving their bodies," she said. "It's a testament to their enthusiasm."

    Berryman said in addition to the dancers, who number around 80, dozens of behind-the-scenes volunteers have toiled on set design, lighting, costume design and a myriad of other tasks without which the show would not go on.

    photo: entertainment

      Photo by Carey James, Homer News
    Katie markelz practices her part with other dancers.  
    "Everyone just throws themselves in, and it just seems to fit together like a neat jigsaw puzzle," Berryman said. "It just all comes together."

    Carey James can be reached at