Behind the scenes of The Nutcracker’s return to Anchorage

The holiday classic returns after three years off the stage.

Promotional photo for The Nutcracker, courtesy of the Anchorage Concert Association.

It’s a crowded scene at the Performing Arts Center as hundreds of people, from toddlers to grandmothers, pour in and fill the seats of the Atwood Concert Hall. Most people are dressed to the nines, with well-pressed suits and sparkly tiaras catching the light as they settle in for the performance. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra begins to tune their instruments as the eyes of an illustrated nutcracker onstage peer back and forth, delighting the few children who squeal when they realize it's moving. 

When the curtain finally lifts, it’s to a stage filled with colorful sets, beautiful and intricate costumes, and even the occasional burst of flame and fog. The story of The Nutcracker is alive through dance, depicting parties, battles, and a cast of colorful characters. At one point dancers are lifted into the air in a colorful hot air balloon. The entire show feels like something out of a storybook, telling a story without any words. 

The Nutcracker returned to Anchorage this winter after a three year break. This year is the 31st Anchorage Concert Association presentation of this ballet in Anchorage, with Eugene Ballet returning to the stage for this performance. 

With the return of Eugene Ballet comes the return of some dancers who have been a part of The Nutcracker from the beginning. This marks the 15th season that principal dancers Danielle Tolmie and Mark Tucker have been with Eugene Ballet. Both have been a part of every Eugene Ballet Nutcracker performance in Anchorage.

“The Nutcracker is really a ballet that opens up opportunities for a lot of the younger dancers to prove themselves and their skills and their performing abilities,” Tucker said. He said that this challenging ballet is an opportunity to show off the depth of a company beyond just the principal dancers, and that dancers train for years to be able to perform at the required level.

When it came to rehearsing for this year’s performance, Eugene Ballet spent two and a half weeks on rehearsal. Four weeks of practice is the amount of time for a production.

“In some ways it’s like riding a bike,” said Tolmie, “because you did it last year and your body remembers the choreography fairly well.”

Tolmie says it feels amazing to be bringing The Nutcracker back after so long. “I think part of it is that everyone is hungry for the live performances that they missed out on for so many years, and so we’re really excited to see them and feel their energy. Anchorage always has a really energized audience.”

Dancers often alternated roles between performances, allowing everyone to play a wide variety of parts. This year Tucker played Herr Drosselmeyer while Tolmie played the mechanical doll during the Christmas party. Both Tucker and Tolmie played the Snow King and Queen, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, and Coffee.

In addition to Eugene Ballet, The Nutcracker was put on in collaboration with Alaska Dance Theatre. Eighty two dancers ages 6 to 18 performed on stage alongside Eugene Ballet performers.

Zoe Zawodny, 13, has done five performances in The Nutcracker; her first at only 7-years-old. This year she played a party boy during the Christmas party in Act I, and enjoyed being onstage and performing. “It was so big, and there were so many people onstage, it was like, really cool.”

During the party scene, each child had assigned “party parents” from Eugene Ballet who helped when performers didn’t know where to go. “They were all really nice, and none of them really treated us like kids. They treated us more as like, professional coworkers,” Zoe said. 

In addition to local dancers, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra provided 70 Alaskan musicians to perform the music of The Nutcracker live for the dancers on stage.

According to a press release by the Anchorage Concert Association, it is anticipated that over 10,000 attendees made it to the three days of performances.