'The Nutcracker' With An Alaskan Twist In Sitka, the local production of The Nutrcracker is uniquely Alaskan. Father Herring replaces Mother Ginger; the Mosquito Queen reigns instead of the Mouse King.
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'The Nutcracker' With An Alaskan Twist

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'The Nutcracker' With An Alaskan Twist

'The Nutcracker' With An Alaskan Twist

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When you picture the "Nutcracker" ballet, what do you see? Dancing, dueling mice and wooden soldiers, the sugar plum fairy, maybe BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. What about a bald eagle and a fisherman? That's what you can see onstage in Sitka, Alaska, where generations of dancers have taken the Tchaikovsky classic and made it Alaskan. From member station KCAW in Sitka, Emily Kwong ducked backstage to meet the performers.

EMILY KWONG, BYLINE: This Christmas ballet begins when a girl named Marie is gifted a wooden doll by her grandfather. And after the clock strikes midnight, the Nutcracker, played by 18-year-old Kincaid Parsons, comes to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S "THE NUTCRACKER")

KINCAID PARSONS: This is the moment I change from doll to man. It's quite an intricate scene. You've got the presents moving out, the curtain coming in. There's bad mosquitoes everywhere. And then I come in to save the day.

KWONG: Wait, mosquitoes?

PARSONS: Oh, yeah, 'cause this is the Alaskan version.

KWONG: This is the 10th time the Fireweed Dance Guild has staged "The Nutcracker" in Sitka. And every few years, they give it an Alaskan twist.

(SOUNDBITE OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S "THE NUTCRACKER")

PARSONS: We have jellyfish with these awesome umbrella floaty props. And we've got northern lights.

MELINDA MCADAMS: The gold miners, the can-can girls.

KWONG: Melinda McAdams is the director, with a shock of bright pink running through her gray hair. She's also Parsons' mom.

MCADAMS: I have a drawing above my desk that Kincaid made when he was probably like a kindergartener that says, dancing is double fun, and so are you.

KWONG: And McAdams has no problem breaking the rules of ballet to keep the material fresh. Instead of whisking Marie away to the land of sweets, the Nutcracker takes her to the faraway kingdom of Alaska. In Act 2, there's a kerfuffle of cruise ship passengers, a waltz of the state flower - forget-me-nots - and a slime line, where tap dancers in rubber boots process fish to a beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S "THE NUTCRACKER")

MCADAMS: I'm proud of the fact that the audience recognizes their lives in it. They're like, you should do the Spanish dance with crabs because their little snapper hands will be like the castanets. So we've done it that way ever since.

(SOUNDBITE OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S "THE NUTCRACKER")

KWONG: And the biggest tutu of the night is worn by a crusty old fisherman on stilts, played by Don Lehman. He made a snap decision to take ballet classes in his 40s as he neared the summit of Denali, the highest peak in North America.

DON LEHMAN: And it came to me in a flash between one step and the next - well, I should take ballet.

KWONG: Instead of Mother Ginger, Lehman plays Father Herring. His torso is a fishing boat, and his enormous hoop dress represents the blue ocean. The youngest dancers in the studio swim out from beneath him, dressed as herring he's unable to catch. At 65, Lehman has watched generations of herring dancers grow into ballerinas. He fought back tears and said he was sad to be taking his final bow.

LEHMAN: It's fun watching them grow, and you can't believe how beautiful and graceful they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF TCHAIKOVSKY'S "THE NUTCRACKER")

KWONG: Lehman calls it the best Nutcracker, per capita, anywhere.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Kwong in Sitka, Alaska.

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