For the love of dance

Hannah Gutkind has been dancing since the age of three. “I love the way I can express myself through it and tell a story through my movement,” the 15-year-old Washougal resident said.

Attending The Nutcracker

Columbia Dance will present the holiday classic at the Vancouver School of Arts & Academics Royal Durst Theatre, 3101 Main St. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and older as well as students with school ID, and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

Performance times are 7 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday; and 1 p.m. Monday.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.columbiadance... or at the dance studio, 1700 Broadway, Vancouver. For more information, call Columbia Dance at 737-1922.

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From left, local ballet dancers Molly Bartley and Kamiah Auger-Koch receive direction from Jan Hurst, Columbia Dance artistic director and choreographer of the studio’s “Nutcracker” production.

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Dance Gutkind performs the role of Rose Demi-Soloist in Waltz of the Flowers at a 2012 Nutcracker rehearsal.

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Photo courtesy of Dion Gutkind Since her first recital at the age of 3, Gutkind has enjoyed performing on stage.

Hannah Gutkind loves ballet.Since she was 2, the Washougal resident has fostered a passion for dance. As the years have gone by, this has meant giving up soccer and other sports, missing out on youth group and a lot of the high school experience.

But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s hard to put into words how much I love dance,” Gutkind said. “I love how I can express myself through it and tell a story through my movement. I never liked talking in front of people, so this is a way I can express myself without words.”

Gutkind, 15, will be performing several roles in the upcoming production of Columbia Dance’s, “The Nutcracker,” which will run Friday through Monday at the Royal Durst Theater in Vancouver.

It will be her seventh year in the production. She will dance as Demi-Soloist Snow and Merliton Pas on Friday and Sunday; while Saturday and Monday she will portray Snow Corp and Dew Drop Fairy.

“It’s a different experience every time,” Gutkind said. “I’m a perfectionist, so for me, it’s never the same when you dance ‘The Nutcracker’. I love the atmosphere and spending all day surrounded by my friends.”

Jan Hurst, Columbia Dance artistic director, has been at the helm of “The Nutcracker” since 1997.

“I look forward to seeing our dancers grow into their roles over our 12 week rehearsal period,” she said. “I love to watch them respond in performance to an enthusiastic audience. I enjoy re-choreographing certain roles each year to both feature and challenge individual dancers.

During the 12-week “Nutcracker” season, Gutkind, like many of her fellow dancers, keeps a grueling schedule. Between regular dance classes and performance rehearsals, she logs up to 20 hours a week. And that doesn’t count travel time to and from Washougal. However, the determined dancer has managed to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA through her first year and a half of high school, which in part she credits the discipline of her dance training.

“It is very difficult to stay on top of everything, but I do as much as possible during the school day, do homework in the car, between rehearsals and after I get home. I have learned to become a night person.”

Her mom, Dion, sometimes has to pull the plug when the late night study sessions creep into the wee hours of the morning.

“She just has such a desire to do well,” Dion said. “She works so very hard, and I am both proud and shocked by the amount of effort she puts into everything. If there are extra credit questions or assignments, she does them, no matter what else is happening.”

Gutkind began her dance training in 2000 with Lynn Mitchell through what was then known as Camas-Washougal Community Education. At just 2 years old, she was the youngest student in the class.

“I remember looking up to the big kids and being so excited to dress up and perform every year,” she said.

Dion recalls that the dance class was supposed to be ages 3 and older, but Mitchell allowed her to enroll her daughter.

“She did really well and always seemed to be able to understand and follow instructions, even from a very young age,” she said. “We let our kids do everything and Hannah played soccer, did gymnastics, swimming and participated in Girl Scouts. But nothing held that spark for her the way dance did.”

By the time she was in sixth-grade, Gutkind made the difficult decision to stop playing soccer, her other love, and focus all her energies on dance.

“There just weren’t enough days or hours in the week,” she said. “But it was really hard to give up soccer. I loved it because I got to move around a lot and spend time outside.”

But in retrospect, Gutkind feels she made the right decision. She is now a full-fledged company member at Columbia Dance, which required a nerve-wracking audition before a panel of evaluators.

She has had the opportunity to participate in several in-studio dance intensives, as well as the annual Regional Dance America Pacific Festival.

Last January, Gutkind decided to audition for intensives at three professional dance companies, including Long Beach and Santa Barbara, Calif., and Milwaukee, Wis. She was accepted at all three but chose Long Beach. This meant taking a variety of classes for six hours a day during a three-week period.

“I loved the opportunity to experience other people’s views and style of dance,” she said. “I had a lot of fun and I really feel the experience shaped me as a person and a dancer. I’m hoping to go somewhere else next summer and build a relationship with a company I want to work with professionally.”

She credits much of her success to the immense support of her parents.

“They do so much just by driving me to and from dance every day,” Gutkind said. “It’s 30 minutes each way. I am so grateful for it. This time of year, I go through so many pairs of pointe shoes. My parents also pay for dance tuition and support me through everything.”

She also is grateful for Hurst, who has been her dance teacher since Gutkind was 8.

“Jan helps me in so many ways,” she said. “If I have an issue, she will give me different exercises to do or tips to improve. She helps me be the best I can be.”

Added Hurst,”Hannah has inspiring balances and the engaging smile that brightens her performances.”

Other local dancers to perform

Gutkind isn’t the only “Nutcracker” dancer from the local area. She is joined by Kamiah Auger-Koch, 16, a part-time Camas resident, as well as Molly Bartley, 15, a part-time Washougal resident.

Auger-Koch attends Columbia River High School and has been dancing for four years.

“I really like all of the people here, and the physical activity,” she said. “We feel like a real family.”

It is her third year in The Nutcracker. She will perform the roles of Clara, Spanish, a doll, snowflake and waltz flower.

“It’s fun to be able to share my passion for dance with the audience,” she said. Bartley attends the Vancouver School of Arts & Academics and has been dancing for 12 years.

“I enjoy the exercise and like having a place to express myself and be artistic,” she said.

It will be her fourth Nutcracker with Columbia Dance. She will perform the roles of the Dewdrop Fairy, Arabian and a snowflake.

“This is a great opportunity to perform and show off what we have learned,” Bartley said.

Hurst said both dancers make unique contributions.

“Molly gives everything she has to her performances, and her work ethic inspires others in the company,” she said. “Kamiah keeps everyone’s spirits light, so they can work all the harder and with greater joy.”