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  Comments (0) Total Wednesday Apr. 16, 2014
Pointe of Significance
MaKenna Holman plays Clara in this year’s Nutcracker. | Photo courtesy of Trevon Baker Photography
Thanksgiving weekend is significant for many things: A day to guiltlessly indulge in all things edible, a massive parade down the streets of New York City, the official start of another holiday shopping season, and the annual performance of The Nutcracker Ballet in Bigfork.

Twice every year the Northwest Ballet Company of Kalispell comes to Bigfork for a production. This is the 20th year the company has done The Nutcracker in Bigfork, and when the ballet comes to town for its five performances, it’s a big deal. Although the casts of these productions are mostly elementary and secondary-school students, the productions are quite serious and professional. Having observed classes and rehearsals that are intense, compact, and run like clockwork, part of the reason for the professionalism is obvious. And now, having had an opportunity to talk with some of the performers, the rest of the picture has come together.

McKenna Miller, a senior at Flathead High School, has studied ballet with Northwest for 10 years. In this, her final season with the company, she’ll be dancing the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Ballet is an art of few (i.e., no) words, yet I find McKenna remarkably articulate as she describes her practice routine. “I don’t have time to practice my dance outside of my four days each week of class and rehearsal. That’s the time I reserve for homework, band – I play the trombone. Most people don’t think I look like a trombone player. Would you guess I play trombone?” I start to answer, but McKenna continues, “And student council, math honor society, …” I can’t write fast enough, but no matter. I get the idea: She’s serious about dancing, but it’s not her life. She sees I’ve stopped writing and continues, “Sometimes in my car, when I’m stopped at a light, you might see me waving my arms over my head or making gestures. I’m not crazy, I’m just working through some dance moves.”

Kristin Young is a doll. Literally, in the production, I mean. Perhaps somewhat reserved, but probably only in contrast, she chimes in, “I’m not as involved in other activities. I drive from Polson to Kalispell two to four nights a week and have less time. I ran cross country for three years, but had to cut back and be the manager this year.” I’ve made the drive; it’s a long hour each way. Why does she do it? “Most people don’t understand what a dancer does, the long hours a dancer spends on technique, the frustrations of working so hard to get it right, how it’s as physically exhausting as running cross country. Here they understand that.” And the clincher, “I’ve always wanted to dance pointe on stage. I’ve always wanted to dance in The Nutcracker. I never dreamed I’d ever get to do either.”

Class periods change and McKenna and Kristin are replaced by MaKenna Holman, a seventh grader from Swan River School in Bigfork. This will be MaKenna’s fifth performance in The Nutcracker. Her first role was a mouse. This year she plays Clara, the girl who dreams almost the whole ballet. Noting her extensive experience, I ask if she’s been in plays with speaking parts. “No, I’m not much of a talker,” she proclaims. “Dance is the way I express my emotions. I’m really quite shy.” But not shy about her career plans. “I’d like to make a career of dance. I plan to go to college for dance. I’m especially interested in Ballet West, a school in Salt Lake City. A good school not too far from home.” Leaving home seems a big step when you’re in seventh grade.
What do you take away from your dance experience, I ask to no one in particular. McKenna Miller puts it most succinctly. “You learn the power of positive thinking: If you think you can do it, then you can. And you learn to live in the present, to shut out the rest of the world and pour all your emotion into the dance.”

The Nutcracker Ballet is a character-building experience for all to see.

Performances will be Nov. 29 and Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at the Kalispell Grand Hotel (755-8100). For more information, contact Northwest Ballet at 755-0760 or northwestballet.com.
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