Millwood ‘Nutcracker’ production grows more elaborate

THURSDAY, DEC. 1, 2011

Saturdays are pretty busy this fall at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Argonne Road in Millwood.

That’s when 60 young dancers, ages 3 to 20, arrive to rehearse for a local holiday production of Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

“It’s my dream for every child to experience ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet,” said Jonna Maule, owner and director of Millwood Ballet Theatre and Company Ballet School.

“It’s fun to come together and put on a good show,” said dancer Anna Arensmeyer, 11, who plays Clara during the Friday performance, and four parts on Saturday.

Christina Enrich, 10, dances four different parts throughout the production. “I like learning all the new steps,” she said. Most of the older dancers get a chance to dance multiple parts in each production.

“A unique feature of the production is every child who wants to participate can perform,” Maule said. “We don’t just choose the best dancers.”

Maule began the production in 2005 and has presented it every other year. In the off years, the theater presents other productions such as last year’s “Who-Ville” featuring Dr. Seuss characters set in a Christmas-themed story. Maule and a few parent volunteers handle every aspect of the show.

She considers this year’s undertaking, the fourth time she’s presented a complete production of the show, to be the group’s most elaborate to date.

“We work to make it bigger and better each time,” Maule said. “We add more of the things people expect to see when they see ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”

This year, Maule added a scene inspired by the San Francisco Ballet not traditional to “The Nutcracker.”

“The prologue to the second act will be forest fairies,” Maule said. “So before they get to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, they’ll go through one more scene.”

Other features of Millwood’s production include new dances in the second act for the Russian and Chinese dance numbers.

“We have two good jumpers,” Maule said. “One can do acrobatics so there will be many surprises.”

New props and scene elements include snow and a large sleigh for the “Waltz of the Snowflakes,” as well as a hand-painted backdrop done by Kevin Schultz, one of the dancer’s fathers.

When Maule began, the performances were held at the Millwood studio. The production’s popularity resulted in the troupe performing six shows in four days in 2007.

“We kept selling out so we kept adding shows.” Maule said. “We’ve been steadily growing every year.”

After selling out multiple shows at 85 seats per performance, Maule decided to move it to a larger venue in 2009. She now stages the production at the Spokane Community College Lair, which seats 350 per show. Even there, the show sold out. Maule said people were waiting in the lobby, hoping to buy tickets for unclaimed seats. She expects the show to sell out again this year.

All the proceeds go to purchase costumes, props or other needed items. This year, Maule plans to use the money to purchase a new floor for the studio.

For troupe members, rehearsals began with an August boot camp. In September Maule initiated three-hour practices every Saturday, as well as Friday night practices for the younger dancers. In mid-November, she combined both practices to Saturday, allowing the troupe to practice together.

For Maule, the main attraction of the production is the dancers.

“They are amazing,” Maule said. “They have a way of just making ‘The Nutcracker’ come alive and be magical like it’s supposed to be.”

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