Artfully Edmonds: Olympic Ballet Theatre’s petite twins prepare to dance in “The Nutcracker”

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Holly and Claire Christensen share life on and off the stage.

By Ellen Chappelle

At first glance, 13-year-old twins Holly and Claire Christensen resemble regular American teenage girls. At once shy and bubbly, they radiate that familiar combination of excitement and uncertainty that typifies their age. But watching them during one of their many ballet rehearsals reveals something special: a deep-seated passion and dedication beyond their years.

Dancers since the tender age of 4, the girls joined Edmonds’ Olympic Ballet Theatre and School when they were just 5 years old. And it shows. “They are two talented young girls,” says Mara Vinson, one of OBT’s Artistic Directors. “Both have (an) excellent work ethic, are responsible and come to each class and rehearsal with a great attitude.”

Also known for its work ethic, OBT itself has long been a pillar of the Edmonds arts scene. And the husband-and-wife team of Mara Vinson and Oleg Gorboulev (former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal and soloist, respectively) are no different, working with the company in various creative roles for the past five years. Most recently, they choreographed and directed OBT’s highly acclaimed premiere of “Coppélia, The Girl with Enamel Eyes.”

Holly, left, and Claire, right, danced in OBT’s "Nutcracker." (Photos by Alante Photography)

Currently, the Christensen twins and their fellow dancers are deep into rehearsals for “The Nutcracker,” a holiday tradition at OBT. And although the company has been delighting Edmonds audiences with “The Nutcracker” for 30 years, excitement about the production continues to grow like the mythical Christmas tree in Clara’s dream.

Vinson and Gorboulev, who took over OBT’s helm from founding Artistic Director Helen Wilkins earlier this year, are breathing new life into the 119-year-old ballet. New energy, new guest artists and new choreography, along with the ornate sets and glittering costumes, will further sweeten this magical holiday treat.

And after five years as part of “The Nutcracker” cast, Holly, Claire and their friends have reached a long-held goal. “Their class is dancing on pointe on stage with OBT for the first time this year, which is a milestone for young dancers,” said Vinson.

“It’s exciting and a little scary,” Claire smiled. Both girls are dancing in the Spanish pas des trois and in the Marzipan number. They are also understudies for Snow.

Claire Christensen, left, rehearses the pas des trois.

The twins agree that rehearsals for the big holiday show are progressing nicely, as is the leadership of the new artistic directors. “This company’s really awesome,” said Holly. “The directors are amazing.” Claire agreed, saying, “We get a lot of individual interaction as opposed to just (being taught) as a class, which makes us improve more.”

Vinson says that she and Gorboulev are enjoying their first year guiding the company. “It is hard to believe that we’ve only held these positions for a few months,” she said. “I think we’ve just thrown ourselves into the work and haven’t looked back. It has been most rewarding seeing the growth in the dancers, and most challenging realizing that in order for the best results, we can’t be everywhere at once. We’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by such great support from our dancers, board, staff, and the families of Olympic Ballet. They have truly made us feel welcome.”

The Christensen twins, along with fellow dancers, in ballet class. (Photo by Alante Photography)

But even as Vinson and Gorboulev are fully immersed in the mammoth task of adjusting to their new directorship while mounting a major production, they are also looking ahead. “Our goals for Olympic Ballet Theatre for 2012 and beyond are to develop our audience and have more collaborations with live music,” Vinson shared. “Both are so important for our dancers!”

The Christensen twins have long-term goals, too. “I want to be an interior designer or a costume designer,” says Holly. “I kind of want to be an architect,” says Claire. “Or a ballerina,” she adds. Offstage, the girls currently pursue other hobbies. Claire likes to read and knit. Holly also enjoys reading and likes drawing and crafts. They tried Girl Scouts, but found themselves stretched too thin and chose to focus on dancing instead. “Ballet was more important to us,” said Claire.

Whatever they choose to do with their futures will have to wait. For now, it’s all about the dancing. “I really enjoy doing ballet here,” says Claire. “It’s a really good school.”

“The Nutcracker” will be performed at the Everett Performing Arts Center this Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. and at Edmonds Center for the Arts on Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased through OBT’s website.

With a background in theatre and journalism, Ellen Chappelle is perfectly poised to covers the local arts scene for My Edmonds News. She also keeps busy writing and editing for artists and small businesses, publishing an informational site for dog owners and creating handcrafted jewelry. Please keep her posted about all things artistic in Edmonds by emailing her at arts@myedmondsnews.com.

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