If co-directors Breezy Berryman and Jen Norton made the Homer Nutcracker Ballet as a movie, this year’s 30th production would be the origin story. There would be a voice-over introduction, actors from the first show and some special effects.
Thanks to the magic of the stage, all of that will be included in the longest running Homer theatrical production that has been a holiday tradition since opening on Dec. 9, 1989.
The 2018 Homer Nutcracker starts this weekend at the Mariner Theatre, with shows at 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. The show continues at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 and 3 p.m. Dec. 8. Advance tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for youth and $20 for adults and $15 for youth at the door. Advance tickets are on sale at the Homer Bookstore, this weekend’s Nutcracker Faire and at River City Books in Soldotna. All tickets for the special discount show at 3 p.m. Sunday will cost $10.
Berryman’s mother, Jill Berryman, a ballet and music teacher, started the ballet after years of dreaming. Her students needed the skills to handle a full-blown ballet. Her children needed to be old enough for their mom to be able to take the time for the show. The ballet fell into place when Jennifer “Jinx” Strelkauskas, Jill’s sister and a ballerina, teacher and choreographer, visited Homer to help with the show. A third sister, Joy Steward, also performed in the premiere ballet. Finally, Jill Berryman found a strong lead male dancer in Joey Evensen to play the role of the Nutcracker Prince.
“There were all these different considerations that had to fall into place,” Jill Berryman told the Homer News in 1989. “It just had to be the right time for all of this to come together.”
Breezy Berryman, then 13, danced the role of Clara. She performed in the Nutcracker another five years, went off to college and a career in dance in New York. Since her return to Homer, she has been a choreographer and co-director with Norton. All told, Berryman has been involved in the Nutcracker for almost 25 years.
The 30th production starts like other Nutcrackers with a narrated opening establishing the ballet’s story, but with a local twist: the story of the godmothers of the Homer version.
“It’s a little bit of prologue to tell how the Homer Nutcracker came to be,” Norton said.
Since Norton and Breezy Berryman took over directing, they’ve added some innovative touches, like a steam punk theme one year and a narrative going back to the roots of the Nutcracker story, “The Tale of the Hard Nut.” This year, the ballet returns to the more traditional Homer version, with a focus on Clara.
“We’re not telling the how the Nutcracker came to be (in the main production),” Norton said. “We’re telling more of Clara’s story and how she wound up in this wonderful dream world.”
Breezy Berryman said they’re keeping one element of “The Tale of the Hard Nut:” how the Nutcracker Prince’s true love for Clara and his kiss allows her to wake up from her enchanted sleep.
For the third year, Collin Trummel, 16, of Portland returns as the Nutcracker Prince. The grandson of Strelkauskas, he studies at the School of Oregon Ballet.
“It’s fun to see him maturing as a dancer and a person,” Norton said. “He’s growing up, too.”
Breezy Berryman said she’s glad Trummel has come back.
“The kids love taking his class. He inspires them,” she said. “He’s quite the talented dancer.”
Now recovered from a foot injury that sidelined her last year, Aiyana Cline, a high school sophomore, plays Clara. In rehearsals she danced with strong physicality tempered by grace.
“I’m pleased with how she’s taking that,” Breezy Berryman said of Cline’s recovery. “… Her beaming smile, when she performs — she really takes the stage.”
Reprising her role as the Maleficent Queen Rat, Daisy Kettle is joined by other girls in the ranks of the rat army — traditionally roles dominated by boys. Other principal dancers are Hannah Vance and Ruby Allen sharing the roles of Snow Queen, Doll and Topaz Fairy; Katia Holmes as the Pearl Fairy Queen, and Michael Case as Uncle Drosselmeier. High school seniors featured are Katie Clark and Emerald Miller. Guest artist Bridget Doran has choreographed an aerial dance piece.
Expect some surprises throughout the show, starting with the prologue and continuing throughout. Breezy Berryman said they played with the idea of pearls as the gem to celebrate 30th anniversaries, so they’re might be an opalescent globe or two — what film buffs call Easter eggs or little treasures.
Putting on a Nutcracker performance involves not just the cast of 66 youth dancers and 16 adults, but all the behind-the-scenes work of set designers, lighting technicians and costume makers. Nutcracker parents watch over younger dancers during rehearsal or cook the food to feed a small army during the week leading up to opening night. The general of that army has been producer — and now Homer Mayor — Ken Castner, active in the show’s entire 30-year run.
“Every year we have a new group of parents to get trained up in the ways of the Nutcracker,” he said.
Breezy Berryman starts teaching ballet classes in September after auditions, building a corps de ballet — the backbone of any ballet production — over the months. By the time they get serious in November, the corps has been taking classes two and even three times a week.
This year, ballet students got a boost when the Empire Group, owners of the Wild Berry Emporium, financed construction of Suite 3, a studio in the building on Pioneer Avenue. Castner had been talking with the owners about building plans, and they asked him what he would do with the former Wild Berry production room.
“I said, ‘I would make it a dance studio,’ and they said, ‘Go ahead and do that,’” Castner said.
“They asked what can they do to further the cause,” Norton said. “And so they invested in Homer Nutcracker.”
Breezy Berryman said the new studio has made classes easier. Formerly they rehearsed in the Art Barn with its tilted floor and no bathroom. The new studio has a full dance setup with mirrors and, best of all, a bathroom and changing room. Castner said the dancers christened it by putting up Wonder Woman posters.
With a new studio, a growing group of student dancers and the continuing tradition of community, the Homer Nutcracker Ballet has a solid foundation to continue on another 30 years. In the midst of production, though, Norton said she and Berryman haven’t had time to contemplate what’s next.
“Possibly at the end of the process we’ll say, ‘We made it to 30 years and what is the future of the Nutcracker going to look like?’” Norton said. “We’re so in the habit of getting it rolling and just doing it.”
Castner called 30 years a milestone, noting that more than 3,000 people come and watch it every year.
“It’s a fairly amazing thing,” he said. “…It’s just so much fun. It’s a good community effort.”