Virginia Holte, Founder and Artistic Director of the West Hawaii Dance Theatre (WHDT) has offered performances of the Nutcracker Ballet and has across the State for the past 29 years, many of which took place at the Kahilu Theatre.
Holte spoke with me about WHDT’s response to COVID-19 concerns with this year’s annual production, and her history with The Nutcracker. “The first Kahilu performance was in 1992,” recalled Holte. “We used pre-recorded music, and I danced it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to fly in guest artists back then. Last year, with the shutdowns, the show still went on, but in WHDT’s small Kona studio without an audience and only ten dancers performing. It was videotaped for others to view.”
Nearly two years into the pandemic, Holte and her team have adapted to new safety protocols and kept the holiday tradition alive with two breathtaking, magical performances last week at the Kahilu.
“We used fewer people this year. There were only six snowflakes with the Snow Queen, four soldiers, and Jana Park Moore, the narrator, pre-recorded her parts. The good news was we had dancers Katherine Williams, Jose Sebastian, and Andrii Ishchuk from American Ballet Theatre as guests this time.”
If you’ve seen previous WHDT performances, you may have recognized several familiar faces. Long-time special guest Timour Bourtasenkov still plays Uncle Drosselmeyer, and Rayna Morphis now plays the Maid and other central parts. In addition, Lucie Hendrickson did a charming presentation taking the lead role of Clara.
One of the significant changes in this year’s production was the absence of the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra and the use of a pre-recorded soundtrack. “We’re sad about not having the orchestra. Also, the wind instruments were concerning. It’s expensive having a live orchestra, and as a nonprofit, we’ve had to tighten our belt. But maybe next year, we’ll be able to build back up our finances and hire them again.”
This year’s guest performers were delightful as ever. Honolulu-born Katherine Williams shone as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen. New York native Jose Sebastian was terrific as the Nutcracker Prince and Cavalier. Finally, Ukraine’s Andrii Ishchuk dazzled the crowd with his spins and high leaps as Trepak, the Russian dancer.
Holte noted that WHDT’s former students have since found careers in the entertainment industry. “At 11, Quinn Warton was our first Nutcracker Prince. He went to North Carolina School of the Arts, got into the San Francisco Ballet, and was with them for seven years. Marissa Montini went to the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, got into the National Ballet, and danced with them. She’s now running our outreach program in Maui at the Maui Ballet.”
What does the future look like for WHDT? Choreographer Timour Bourtasenkov explains: “We’re working on this little secret project, but it’s starting to get less secret. It’s like the ‘Jungle Book’ Kipling story, but it will be ballet with Hawaiian themes and indigenous characters. Funding is always difficult with new projects, but I just received a grant from Tokyo for a starter grant and maybe some help from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) to support it. We may do it as a theater project and then film it on locations at different places.”
And will the Nutcracker return in 2022? “It really depends on the pandemic,” Holte said. “That’s what’s going to guide everything we’re doing from now on.”
Photos: Steve Roby
Steve Roby is the editor of Big Island Music Magazine.