Humboldt's favorite holiday ballet pirouettes into the Arkley Center

How sweet it is! North Coast Dance once again stages the company's always delectable holiday treat, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," at Eureka's Arkley Center for the Performing Arts beginning this weekend.

And, with the exception of four special guest artists featured in key roles, the 93-member ensemble is made up of local dancers -- all talented students of all ages trained by North Coast Dance's consistently creative artistic director/choreographer, Danny Furlong.

This year's version marks the 10th anniversary of Furlong's role as the guiding hand steering the fate of the longtime company originally known as Redwood Concert Ballet and renamed North Coast Dance in 2003.

That was also the year that the revamped and revitalized North Coast Dance first staged a "Nutcracker" with Furlong's original choreography.

And, although he was forced to rebuild the company's depleted student/instructor base from the ground up, North Coast Dance has not only overcome those obstacles, but continues to be an integral part of Eureka's cultural core.

At its beautiful studio in downtown Eureka, dance classes are taught by top-notch teachers, and -- when they've worked hard enough to earn it -- the students showcase their talents in "The Nutcracker" at the company's nearby home performance space, the Arkley Center.

"The most exciting aspect is always the fact that the majority of the dancers performing are homegrown right here in Humboldt County," Furlong said.

The artistic director continues to create fresh choreography to suit the various levels of his student dancers, as well as the advanced capabilities of the professional guest artists added to each year's production.

The guest dancers chosen for the 2012 "Nutcracker" are Ken Scott in the title role; Jamie Duggan as the sugar plum fairy; Aaron Simunovich as her cavalier riccola and Brendan Barthel dancing both Arabian coffee (with North Coast Dance's Nicole Jackman) and the snow king with North Coast Dance's Beth Poston and Iris VanAtta, alternating as the snow queen.

Other featured North Coast Dance performers include Mark Hapgood as the magician, Drosselmeyer; Alexandra DuBois and Alliah Watts alternating as Clara (whose dream brings the Nutcracker to life after a Christmas Eve party); Justin Cataldo as her bratty brother, Fritz and Furlong and Abra Labarre as their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Silberhous.

There's also Valerie Samelson as the flower girl; Ava Killoran, Thi Samelson and Sandra Sanderson as elf, ballerina and bear dolls; Sam Campbell as the rat king; Ramsey Gifford as the Chinese tea emperor; Ruby Elliot as the French marzipan; Alex Sutter and Kaeli Jewell as Mr. and Mrs. Iowa Farmer; Elizabeth Poston as the butterfly and TJ Highsmith as Rose.

In addition, there's Stuart Cataldo, Shelly Harris, Katie Kitchen and Haylee Wolff dancing Spanish Chocolate, and Brenna Kiloran, Grace Kimura, Allie Lucchesi, Clarice Mayo, Shea McMurtrey, Kyra Myers and Annabelle Raven as Russian Trepak.

North Coast Dance members complete the ensemble playing a wide range of supporting characters: party mothers, fathers, girls and boys; grandmama; maids; little mice; toy soldiers; snow corps and sprites; angels; flowers; garden gnomes; fairies; a wolf; Chinese tea leaves; some delightful little marzipan sheep and Iowa farm animals.

All of these colorful characters join together to take the audience along with them on Clara's magical journey.

"My belief," Furlong said, "is that 'The Nutcracker' should be like a Christmas tree ornament -- shiny, glittery and delightful to the eye. Something you walk away from believing in magic!"

Furlong also said that with this year's version -- one that he has meticulously created over the past 10 years -- his artistic vision for the ballet is now complete.

"I feel that with the exception of a little fine-tuning here and there, it's finally a finished work," he said. "All I said I would do, I have done. And more."

Indeed he has.

So, come and experience the enchantment of North Coast Dance's "The Nutcracker." It opens at 8 p.m. Friday at the Arkley Center; and tickets include an opening night reception and celebration at 6:30 p.m. to honor North Coast Dance board member Lora Canzoneri.

The ballet continues its run on Saturday with the sugar plum fairy matinee at 4 p.m.; and another matinee Sunday at 2 p.m. It resumes at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18, and closes with a final performance at 7 p.m. on Dec. 19.

Adult tickets are $20; children under 12 are $12. Get 10 percent off with group rates. For advance tickets, call the Arkley Center box office at 442-1956 or visit arkleycenter.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the box office one hour before curtain time. The Arkley Center for the Performing Arts is located at 412 G St., Eureka.

If you go

What: North Coast Dance's "The Nutcracker"

When: 8 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, 412 G St., Eureka

Admission: $20 adults, $12 children under 12

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