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'Nutcracker'

One of the most beloved Christmas season traditions returns to the Ross Ragland Theater when the Eugene Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, Nov. 30.

A steadfast and cherished holiday tradition returns to the Ross Ragland Theater, earlier than usual, when the Eugene Ballet travels to the Klamath Basin for a performance of “The Nutcracker” on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Two performances will be held, a matinee at 2 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. The performances continue a tremendous learning experience for local dancers, as the production will incorporate local youth dance students from Klamath Falls’ three studios: Klamath Dance and Exercise, Rachel’s School of Dance, and Carla’s the Dancers Studio. A total of 41 local dancers are expected to participate, joining professional dancers for a unique performance showcasing local youth and teen talents.

The local dance studios’ participation involves rotating hosting duties each year, with dancers provided from all three schools. This year it is Klamath Dance and Exercise’s turn to head up hosting responsibilities, undertaking a grueling audition and rehearsal schedule in the lead-up to showtime. Depending on availability, in past years Eugene Ballet members have offered master classes during their time in Klamath Falls, further adding to the experience for local performers. The Eugene Ballet is actively involved in the audition process and provide music, choreography and instructional videos to utilize for rehearsals.

A tradition begins

The performances involving the Eugene Ballet began in the 1990s as a fundraiser for the Klamath Crisis Center. The initial show proved successful, and upon the troupe’s return the following year, the Eugene Ballet encouraged kids to audition to participate.

“The Nutcracker” has become synonymous with the Christmas season for its memorable holiday themes, story of children’s imagination, and iconic music as one of the most recognizable ballets ever staged. First premiered in 1892 as a two-act Russian ballet featuring a musical score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the ballet did not reach international acclaim until decades later as the ballet began to be performed beyond Russia’s borders. Today it is considered one of the most famous ballets ever written, alongside “Swan Lake,” featuring among its many memorable moments the instantly recognizable “Dance of the Sugarplum Faeries.”

Normally held in December closer to Christmas, conflicting scheduling dates made the Eugene Ballet only available to come to the Klamath Basin at the end of November this year. As a result, auditions were held in September, with every kid who auditioned earning a slot in the performance. In previous years, youth participation has been closer to 60 dancers, but the show’s close proximity to the Thanksgiving holiday has meant some dancers were unavailable due to family travel plans.

From mice to bon-bons

“The kids are excited, there are some returning kids who started as baby mice and have worked their way up to bon-bons, angels and party children in the story,” said Becky Chase, owner of Klamath Dance and Exercise. “There are several kids who have moved up over the years.”

Chase noted that while the story may be familiar, every year the Eugene Ballet varies choreography and other aspects to keep the show slightly different. This year due to the reduced number of youth participants the staging setup changes in terms of spacing for both kids and the Eugene Ballet members on stage, and inevitably while working with kids unexpected things can occur.

“It is always fun, because no matter what we tell the kids to do they always look for their parents in the crowd and start waving hard as we tell them not to,” laughed Chase. “In past years we have had kids terrified to go under the Mother Ginger costume when the bon-bons emerge from under her skirt. Costumes are sometimes held together with safety pins, duct tape and whatnot. The Eugene Ballet actually has a sewing mistress to fit costumes, and we have seen her backstage sewing right up until showtime before. It keeps things fun.”

Practice, practice, practice

Rehearsals have been held on Saturdays since October in preparation for the show. Chase offered special thanks to ballet instructor Suzan Phipps, who has worked extensively with the 41 dance students to have them prepared for the show.

“The kids are excited and they are doing such a great job,” said Chase. “We would love to see more events like this come to the Ragland and the Klamath community where the dancers can get involved.”

Tickets for “The Nutcracker” range from $19 to $29. To reserve tickets or for more information contact the Ross Ragland Theater box office at 541-884-5483 or visit www.rrtheater.org.