On Stage

The Nutcracker

A ballet with legs

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

When it comes to the intricacies of The Nutcracker, Northwest Ballet Theater’s John Bishop is the man to go to with questions. As the artistic director, choreographer and wrangler of Sugar Plum Fairies since the company’s first performance nearly 20 years ago, Bishop is a man with a plan—and a vision.

Cascadia Weekly: What’s exciting about this year’s production?

John Bishop: A magical growing Christmas tree, giant catapulting mousetrap, an exploding cannon, falling snowflakes and sleigh-riding on a billowing cloud—all set against beautiful scenic backdrops and scrims.

Exciting enough? Well, there is a lot more actually. This year we have added new ballroom-style choreography in Act I thanks to Rachel Hutchins, an international competitive ballroom choreographer, and dramatic changes to the battle scene thanks to contemporary choreographer Megan Nelson. Keeping in tradition with the traditional Petipa choreography for the balletic scenes, I have given more athletic choreography to many of the characters—from young Clara to the Sugar Plum Fairy (Hailey Forsberg) and Cavalier (Gilford Fred).

CW: When did Northwest Ballet Theater start offering the holiday ballet to the public, and what’s your favorite thing about sharing it with audiences in Whatcom and Skagit counties?

JB: From a very conservative first production in 1999, there is one thing that really never has changed, and that is the joy and excitement it creates in the faces of our audiences. From the little pink mice who enter the stage from a large grandfather clock to the soloists and principals who pour out every ounce of their soul to give a totally professional look to each scene, people who come out every year to see us know they are in for a treat.

CW: You’re doing a Christmas Eve show at the Mount Baker Theatre. Is that a first?

JB: This is the second straight year we have performed on Christmas Eve. It turns out both the dancers and our audiences enjoyed it very much. There seems to be an added magic to that particular performance.

CW: Why should people make a viewing of The Nutcracker part of their seasonal celebrations?

JB: There is no real logic of why people make it a part of their holiday celebrations. However, for more than 150 years this favorite ballet of all time has never seem to have gotten old or outdated.

The story, although enchanting and especially appealing to young children, seems to attract the older generation as well, as they also grew up with it when they were children. I must say that bringing a traditional rendition of the ballet has been an honor and joy for one who has both danced in, and/or choreographed and staged it for 50 years. I guess that would make this year my Nutcracker “Diamond Anniversary.”

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