Published: Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mill Creek sisters shine in PNB spotlight

By Katie Murdoch
Enterprise editor
Mill Creek sisters Sabrina (left), 14, as the Nutcracker, and Isabella Alabi, 12, as Clara, the lead role, star together in Pacific Northwest Ballet's...

Purchase Photo Reprint Enterprise/CHRIS GOODENOW

Mill Creek sisters Sabrina (left), 14, as the Nutcracker, and Isabella Alabi, 12, as Clara, the lead role, star together in Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of “The Nutcracker.” They pause for a photo just before going on stage, Dec. 16, at McCaw Hall in Seattle.

Before the curtain opens, Isabella Alabi, 12, looks down from her bed onstage and waves at her sister, Sabrina, 14, and they wish each other good luck before the ballerinas' show.
The sisters from Mill Creek are performing in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's (PNB) production of the “Nutcracker.” Isabella, in her fourth production of the ballet, is one of three dancers performing as the young Clara.
“I was nervous for the audition,” Isabella says. “I was picked out of 200 girls. It was very special.”
Sabrina, dancing in her fifth, is in the role of the Nutcracker in the ballet's opening dream scene.
“I like the role but the mask is a pain,” she says. “It's heavy and it throws you off.”
“And it stinks,” Isabella added.
“Well, yeah, it stinks,” Sabrina says. “You don't know where you're going and you can't judge how high or low things are.”
Sabrina has been dancing for 11 years, eight of them with PNB. For Isabella, six of her eight years dancing have been with the prestigious Seattle-based dance school.
While training and classes are fun for her, Sabrina says it's the rush from performing that has kept her hooked for more than half of her life.
“At PNB they do big productions,” she says. “When the productions are over, I want more.”
“I love it for all the performing,” Isabella agrees. “I like ballet class because I feel different than I do at school. I can get completely lost in a new world.”
As for pre-show jitters or superstitions to ward off the unpredictability of live performances, the sisters smile sweetly and shrug it off.
“This year I haven't gotten nervous,” Isabella says. “Now I just get excited.”
“I'm just anxious and can't wait to get on stage,” Sabrina adds.
Since “Nutcracker” rehearsals began Oct. 1, the girls have juggled school work with ballet. Both students at Heatherwood Middle School in Mill Creek, their mom, Esther Alabi, drives them to practices, the car ride involving quick dinners, homework and sleep. Dance classes last two and a half hours and are held five days per week. Rehearsals for the show varied between three and five hours per week as opening approached.
The girls said there is a healthy competition amongst their peers.
“We all work off each other and challenge each other,” Isabella says.
Esther Alabi said the girls' dance schedules don't leave much time for other hobbies, but school is a top priority. While her daughters enjoy dancing, they seem to have a realistic perspective on the physical and mental demands of the craft by watching the adult, professional dancers, she adds.
“They've seen the bad things — the bleeding feet and the ice baths,” she says. “The dancers get so sore.”
As for a career in dance, Sabrina is open minded so long as it doesn't impact her studies.
“I think I will go as far as I can but school is a priority,” she says.
Her geometry, reading and language arts classes hold her attention and she appreciates how flexible teachers have been with her performance schedule.
“They've been really understanding and supportive,” she says.
Isabella says she hasn't thought too much about dancing on a professional level — yet.
“I'm going to keep dancing 'til I don't love it,” she says.