Dancers, musicians, singers to present 'The Nutcracker'

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With her shadow resembling the wooden namesake of the upcoming production, Idalee Hutson-Fish leads her Waltz of the Flowers dancers through a Tuesday night rehearsal for this weekend's Nutcracker. December 9, 2008

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Katie Krivoshein (front) and Emma Eskil rehearse Waltz of the Flowers for the weekend performances of The Nutcracker. December 9, 2008

A curious crowd of children, mice and cavaliers will twirl and whirl the night away. Toys come to life to pirouette and leap when a young girl wakes to find her bedroom overrun by villainous rodents dancing to the pulse of a lively suite.

The Walla Walla Symphony, conducted by Maestro Yaacov Bergman, presents Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" with the Eugene Ballet Company, local dance students of Idalee Hutson-Fish and a children's chorus directed by Christine Janis. The performances will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in Whitman College's Cordiner Hall. All seats are reserved, and tickets are available online at www.wwsymphony.org; by calling 509-529-8020; at the symphony office at 131/2 E. Main St., Suite 201 in Walla Walla; or at the door. Tickets are $35, or $25 for youths under 18, for gold section seats, $25 ($20 youth) for white section seats and $20 ($15 youth) for blue section seats.

Two years ago, the Eugene Ballet Company returned to Walla Walla after a long hiatus to perform "The Nutcracker" with a live symphony. After a successful run, and last year's collaboration to produce Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty," the ballet troupe returns for another rousing holiday production.

"It's fun for the orchestra to play with real professional dancers," said Michael Wenberg, CEO of the Walla Walla Symphony. "(For) high quality dancers, you typically need to go to a bigger city to see them. One of the missions of (the Eugene Ballet Company) is to bring that quality of performance to smaller communities."

Toni Pimble, founder and award-winning artistic director of the Eugene Ballet Company, echoed a similar sentiment. "We love performing with live music, performing with the Walla Walla Symphony. It's always wonderful to do a show with live musicians."

For Pimble, who has directed "The Nutcracker" for some years now, the challenge is bringing the production back up to performance standard year after year.

"From my perspective, I'm always looking at my dancers from a critical point of view, the idea being that we're always dancing to improve their performance," she said. "Overall, the performances have gone very well, and I'm very pleased with the outcome."

The ballet company -- 21 professional dancers and a student from the ballet school who plays young Fritz -- began their holiday tour in mid-November, and have been traveling the Northwest from Weed, Calif., up to Anchorage, Alaska.

Local dance teachers, such as Idalee Hutson-Fish, have been rehearsing with young dancers who will play secondary roles: the mice, angels, ladybugs, partygoers, lions, cavaliers and Waltz of the Flowers dancers, the latter role reserved for the most advanced students who dance en pointe, or on the tips of the toes.

A ballerina from the Eugene Ballet Company conducted auditions in mid-September to select the local dancers, who range from 4 to 18 years old. Since then, the chosen ballet dancers have been practicing for their debut in a major production.

Wenberg said, "It's a wonderful opportunity for these young dancers to not only perform a great ballet, but... (it's) a real treat and a rarity for them to perform with these professionals."

Some of the children, such as those in the party scenes, won't struggle with the dancing, but will have to act and be characters for the first time, Hutson-Fish explained.

"The most fun is working with the older girls," Hutson-Fish said. "Expectations are very high about their performance and what they can do."

But the younger "little teeny tiny ones" who play the mice are fun too, she said.

"I think it's very exciting, especially for the little ones who don't know, to have the experience of being next to the beautiful dancers, scenes and costumes. I'm sure their eyes will be huge saucers when they're up there," she said.

The dance company, symphony, local dancers and children's chorus will meet for one very important dress rehearsal before opening night on Tuesday.

Ashley Akacich, who works with both the Walla Symphony and dance teacher Huston-Fish, anticipates a beautiful, penultimate performance, when the sugar plum fairy and her cavalier dance the Pas de Deux with its big lifts and turns.

The costumes and sets, created by former Disney designer Don Carson, also promise to impress.

Artistic director Pimble said, "His designs were (always) very child-friendly, and that's how this production is. Sweet, fun, and charming."

With 65 musicians, the professional ballerinas and cavaliers, 50 local dancers and the children's chorus, the production is sure to spark some plummy memories.

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