The Homer Nutcracker Ballet holds a special place in the lives of so many, and this year, celebrates 34 years of spreading holiday cheer. With 195 shows to date and the only Nutcracker ballet on the Kenai Peninsula, the ballet kicks off this weekend with seven shows and runs through Dec. 10.
“The Nutcracker ballet is magical, dreamy, positive and artful, with beautiful music, amazing costumes, and stunning dances,” said Sally Oberstein, Director and Artistic Director.
The ballet has evolved through the years from the first program of eight pages to this year’s 28 pages. The cast and crew has grown from 64 youth and 14 adult performers, ages six to high school, and 30 individuals ages high school to 75 working behind the scenes on sets, costumes, makeup, sound, lighting and backdrops.
“The production team is made up of cast, crew, and other volunteers, working creatively to inspire each other, grow artistically, become more confident, and create a stronger community,” Oberstein said. “There’s an amazing community of hard working people who put their time into supporting this and making this ballet happen.”
Oberstein has been involved with theater since a youth, as a performer, writer, director, and producer, and has worked behind the scenes in past Nutcracker productions. This is her first time directing the ballet.
“Every production engages talented community members who enthusiastically move in the same direction in order to magically bring the written word to life,” she said.
Of the 14 adults dancing, several are Nutcracker alumnae, including those who are now in the role of choreographers, including Rhoslyn Anderson and Ireland Styvar.
This year’s lead choreographer, Anderson began dancing in the Nutcracker as a child.
“My parents took my sisters and I to the Nutcracker, and when we got home, we’d dance around the room putting on skits,” she said. “I was determined to be on stage.”
In 2001 at the age of nine, Anderson began taking dance classes. The following year, she auditioned for Nutcracker and was cast in the roles of Angel and a Mother Ginger kid. She performed in the local production until she graduated in 2009, when she left for university, returned for two years to help out, then moved to New York where she danced with a small company for several years.
In 2020, she and her husband moved back to Homer where they live with their young daughter who joins mom at rehearsals, strapped to her back or on the floor, spinning and dancing with the other young girls.
“My goal as choreographer is to keep the character of the theme, but bring new elements to it, like a more modern twist of dance techniques,” she said. “Choreography is very intuitive — does this movement express the music, emote what the feeling of the music is?”
Anderson is choreographing a wide range of dancers — those who have been studying ballet for years, others who are new to dance, and others who are more performers than dancers. She strives to help all of her dancers excel, creating choreography based on their abilities.
“It’s exciting to determine who would fit where and how each of them cast in a certain role will portray that role,” she said. “I want to challenge them, but not so much that they are out of their comfort zone.”
Choreographing several of the dances, Anderson has also allocated choreography of other dances to guest choreographers, including Kaec Brinster, Morgan Edminster, Corey Geysbeek, Ethan Martin and Ireland Styvar.
In addition to being guest choreographer, Styvar is performing in the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, an entertainer on a train, and a Snow Fairy. She has been with the ballet for 10 years.
“The Nutcracker production requires a great deal of teamwork and collaboration,” she said. “I love that everyone matters and that every role and job is important to bring the magic of the Nutcracker to life. Every single person in the cast brings something unique, a new perspective and their own energy to the show.”
Styvar first stepped on stage when she was 6-years-old in the role of a lamb. This is her first time choreographing.
“Choreography requires specific movement in terms of space and time and allows us to tell a story through movement and energy,” Styvar said. “It’s all about experimenting and the connection that can be built between dancers and choreography. It’s the team between choreography and dancers that builds the final product.”
The entire Homer Nutcracker Ballet is comprised of a team of individuals working on and off stage. Bobbi Copeland-McKinney is one of 30 such individuals behind the scenes, providing tech support.
“Anything that needs to be done backstage with props and sets, I’m in charge of,” she said. “I direct people to things that need to be done, like getting the Christmas tree decorated, wrapping the presents … the visual components of what the audience sees.”
Involved with the ballet since its second year, Copeland-McKinney moved to Homer in 1990, saw the call for auditions and walked through the door offering to help. While she has been in a few roles on stage, she is most comfortable off stage. Her husband Michael began participating in 2003 and works on rigging, set building, acting decks and whatever needs to be done. Copeland-McKinney shared that working the ballet and alongside her husband brings her a lot of joy and satisfaction.
“With Nutcracker, I get to do work I’d never get to do in my real life,” she said. “Working with all the wonderful kids and adults and watching the magic unfold — the people, the music, the art and creativity, is amazing.”
Sponsored by Homer Council on the Arts for the first 16 years, the Homer Nutcracker Ballet has been produced by Homer Nutcracker Productions for the past 18 years, with Ken Castner — also Homer’s mayor — as Executive Producer for all 34 years.
“Jill Berryman and her sister Jennifer Strelkauskas started this whole thing and did whatever needed to be done,” Castner said. “We all thought it might be a one-time thing, but the next year, there were better dancers, more kids involved, and it had a higher production value. And here we are today.”
When Jill Berryman left as Director in 2011, Jennifer Norton and Breezy Berryman joined as Co-Directors, both involved until last year, when Berryman left the production, and Norton continuing on as Technical Director.
“There’s a rich history of community members who are responsible for this ballet growing to what you see now,” Castner said. “We would not be here without each and every one of them and the dedication they brought to every production.”
Castner believes that the ballet is important to the community, not only in providing a holiday tradition, but in what it means to cast and crew involved.
“Nutcracker builds presence and confidence, is non-competitive, and involves individuals and families from the complete cross section of Homer,” he said. “Everybody works hard and pitches in — high school students work back stage, parents have some sort of duty. We all come together with the purpose of making the kids look good on stage and putting on a show.”
Castner said that like every stage show, putting on the ballet includes a lot of details that audiences never see.
“It’s a very technical and involved show with a lot of rigging, carpentry and painting,” he said. “And some of the staging involves up to 10 people to do something, like one performer coming up from the rat pit. That takes five people in the rat pit, plus the rat, just to get them up on stage.”
What audiences do see — like costumes, managed by Wina Wade, makeup designed by Andrea Van Dinther, with assistance from Elsa Milne and Tasha Struben and music — Castner said is a team effort. The music is mostly traditional Tchaikovsky, with non-traditional music included every year, like this year’s inclusion of an instrumental piece by the band, Queen. And of course there are the ever-changing themes, from tradition to Steam Punk, and beyond.
A production like this takes a village and a village shows up year after year. Plans for next year’s show begin two days after the final show, which is followed by a cast party.
Castner encourages everyone to come out and enjoy the ballet.
“Not only is it fun to watch these kids that have so much presence grow up through the years — and I guarantee you’ll know someone in the show — but Homer has an amazing amount of talent,” he said. “It’s not Broadway, but its darn good for Alaska.”
Oberstein said she appreciates that the ballet encapsulates the beauty, joy and magic of the holiday season and celebrates local talent and community support.
“This year we’ll follow the traditional story, with morsels of magic luster and splash, and as always, audiences will see a mix of seasoned and emerging dancers on stage,” she said.
Homer’s Nutcracker Ballet runs Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dece. 10, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 adult, $13 advance and $20 adults, $15 child at the door. Tickets are available online at homernutcrackerproductions.com, at the Wildberry Building, 528 E. Pioneer Ave. on Mondays and Fridays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., at the Nutcracker booth at the Homer Nutcracker Faire on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4, at the door if available, and at River City Books in Soldotna. The Friday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m. show is by invitation only. The Wednesday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m. show is kids attend free with a paid adult ticket, tickets are $20 and available at the Wildberry Products building and at the door as available.