This season’s Nutcracker Ballet has been a long time coming.
The number of high quality Juneau Dance Unlimited athletes has allowed JDU artistic director, and Nutcracker choreographer, Philip Krauter the freedom to produce a holiday feast as close to Broadway as the limited space on the Juneau-Douglas High School stage allows.
New this year are two newly choreographed pas de deux (partnered) dances from Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s original ballet, featuring two guest male dancers.
“All of our older girls are accepted and attend summer dance intensive workshops at major U.S. ballet companies,” Krauter said. “Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Miami Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theater, the Bolshoi.... This has allowed us to expand the level of the Nutcracker production with more partnering.”
In her seventh year as a Nutcracker performer, principle dancer Misha Culver will take on this year’s interpretation of the Snow Queen, a role that highlights one of the new partnered dances. Culver, a Juneau-Douglas High School junior, principled as the Sugar Plum Fairy last season with the production’s lone guest dancer -- Michael Galloway, of California’s Company C Contemporary Ballet. Culver studied this past summer with The Boston Ballet, and previously with Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and Orlando Ballet in Florida.
“Now that we are doing partnering as the Snow Queen it is a lot different from the Sugar Plum last year,” Culver said. “The Sugar Plum Fairy is more soft and graceful and the Snow Queen has a lot more lifts and is more airborne. It is really exciting and makes me happy.”
Culver integrates this spirit and joy of dancing into the character of the Snow Queen.
“She is a relaxing, loving and happy character,” Culver said of the Snow Queen. “She’s bringing Clara to the Land of Sweets after the battle scene. She is telling Clara that everything is OK.”
Through Culver’s interpretation, the Snow Queen becomes a layered character -- soothing, aware, dynamic and vibrant.
“During rehearsal I just look outside at the winter scenery,” Culver said. “Snowflakes are graceful but we have icicles that are sharp, and winter wind, and you have to portray all that into the dance. It is a dance that is difficult but one all the snow dancers bring to the stage.”
Annaka Brayton, Gabrielle Duvernay, Natalie Millay, Anouk Otsea, Eliza Sutch and Marissa Truitt are also featured in the snow dances.
“Snow Queen is a role that is a very strong dancer and athletic,” Krauter said. “It is a new choreography and I wanted someone I could trust, and that is Misha.”
Culver’s partner is guest artist Jonathyn Carey of the Alabama Youth Ballet as the Snow King. Carey is a homeschooled high school senior from Alabama and began dancing in 1999. While there has always been music written for the part, JDU has never had a Snow King in the production.
Carey will also partner, for the production’s first time, in an Arabian pas de deux with Gabrielle Duvernay and Marissa Truitt. Again, the strong en pointe capabilities of Duvernay and Truitt allow for this double-cast interpretation, common in larger ballet productions.
Also in a major role this year is principle dancer Máire New, now in her fourth season of Nutcracker. The ballet saw her begin as a Party Boy and progress to the Sugar Plum Fairy this season. New, home schooled in Juneau, has trained the past two summers, first at the Joffrey Ballet School and then Bolshoi Ballet Academy, both in New York.
New shows the magical allure of the moment and surroundings, after which she dances with her Cavalier.
“I think she is very elegant,” New said of the Sugar Plum. “She is inviting Clara into her Castle of Sweets and putting on a show for her. She is a gracious host.”
While the time is joyful, New’s style is Vaganova, a very classical approach named for Russian ballet teacher Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951) who developed the method from the Russian Imperial Ballet teachings. The technique is taught at every Russian-based classical ballet studio.
“The style has a very sharp focus on precision of the legs and arms,” New said. “It is very precise and a certain way you do it, as compared to the Balanchine style of more fast footwork and extreme wrists. Classical you can definitely tell... it is very picky. And to work with a partner, and see how you both move and get the experience of finding that balance, is really fun.”
New said the Nutcracker tradition is special for many reasons.
“It is enjoyed worldwide which is fantastic,” New said. “I always think somewhere in that audience is some little kid that we are inspiring to become like we are. And that is really amazing to be able to do that every day.”
New’s partner in the grand pas de deux is guest artist Michael Gill as the Cavalier. Gill is a native of Russia. The choreography for the pas de deux is new for this piece.
“It is choreographed to fit them,” Krauter said. “Máire is doing a variation that suits her and Michael came with a version that he knows from Russia. It will look new to people who have seen the production before.”
Among other new elements in this season’s production of The Nutcracker: The athleticism and aerobics of the snow scene; the addition of more baby mice, Pollchinelles, soldiers and angels to get younger company members on stage; more double casting due to advancing skills; and more pointe work among dancers.
“It’s a great feeling,” Culver said. “I feel like our company works well together and know how to bring the spirit and the story to Juneau.”
A few pieces to note are Dancing Dolls (Millay, M. Truitt), Soldier Dolls (Anna McDowell, Kate Bergey, Carraig New, Shannon Mason), Chinese (Brayton, Sutch, Kate Bergey, Anastasia Hobson George, Mason, Anna McDowell, Brimley Oliff, Sydney Truitt) and Merlitons (Culver, Duvernay, Millay, Otsea, M. Truitt), Spanish Black (Otsea) and Red (Millay, Sutch, Duvernay, M. Truitt); Dew Drop Fairies (Duvernay, Otsea)
One of the reasons Krauter has brought in two male guest artists this year is that JDU’s female dancers have become more technically advanced and need the experience and training to do pas de deux.
“I am obliged to bring in partners for them,” Krauter said. “Until our own younger boys age up. JDU does offer free scholarships to boys who want to train.”
JDU has a strong male character acting presence with Luis Torreblanca (Mouse King, Flower Cavalier) and Carraig New (Nutcracker Prince). New and Torreblanca also provide the first all-male Russian set.
“Even a small organization like ours is all about the dancing,” Krauter said. “We might not be able to afford million dollar sets but when people come to see the show they will see some good dancing. And that is worth a million dollars right there.”
The Nutcracker will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the JDHS auditorium.
For more information, visit juneaudance.org.