A whirlwind of dance and music

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WALLA WALLA — What could be the largest and most involved regularly performed classical music production for the area came and left this weekend.

The “Nutcracker,” with a combined cast and crew of approximately 150 locals and visitors, was performed twice Saturday.

Today, the Eugene Ballet Company was to pack up and head for the next of what will eventually be two dozen “Nutcracker” performances the company will perform this season over five weeks in 15 cities.

“We are used to it. We have been touring for 20 years. So we are a type of bus show,” artistic director Tony Pimble said at Friday night’s one and only rehearsal with the local dancers, musicians and chorus.

She added that in some years they have squeezed in as many as 30 performances throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Over the years, the Eugene Ballet has become known for its ability to produce a high quality professional performance in what would seem to be just a couple days of preparation.

On Friday morning, the company’s cast and crew of almost 40 arrived, and in less than 12 hours they were performing a dress rehearsal with a full symphony, choir and local youth ballet dancers.

“It is a very involved production, with many parts to bring together for all this to come to life,” Walla Walla Symphony Chief Executive Officer Leah Wilson-Velasco said.

As for the local youth ballerinas and danseurs (their male partners), Idalee Hutson-Fish of The Dance Center said she has had several dancers who, over the years, have worked their way up the various parts available to them: mice, the lion’s body and the partygoers. And there was at least one who felt she was ready for the lead.

“I did have one of my mice who came in and said, ‘I want to audition for Clara,’” Hutson-Fish said.

One of the reasons the younger dancers are able to share the stage with the professionals of the Eugene Ballet is that, often unbeknownst to the audience, the professional dancers are giving them cues.

Then Hutson-Fish pointed out during a scene in which the toy nutcracker is broken off by Fritz, how the professionals are helping stage the dancers and encouraging their expressiveness.

“The boys are all rooting for Fritz, then the girls go ‘uh-oh,’” Hutson-Fish said, as the head of the toy breaks off.

Even when it was pointed out, the professional’s cues were hard to detect and melded with the choreography.

As if managing a mixture or professional and youth dancers wasn’t enough, the “Nutcracker” also incorporated about three dozen members of the Walla Walla Symphony Youth Chorus.

“Keeping the high school kids and middle school kids focused,” Director Christine Janis said was the hardest part for her.

Then there is the man who must who orchestrate it all, Walla Walla Symphony Conductor Yaacov Bergman, who said it was safe to assume all his musicians have played the show at least once before.

“There is nothing more exciting for me. This is one of the greatest stories in repertory music. In theater and in dance … The beauty of it is our kids, they are exposed to this quality of music and dance,” Bergman said.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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