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Eugene Ballet's "The Nutcracker" returns to the Hult Center

Nathan Wilk
The cast of "The Nutcracker" rehearses on December 15.

Eugene Ballet’s The Nutcracker returns to the Hult Center for seven performances starting Saturday.

The Nutcracker is a ballet centering on the adventures of a young girl who comes up against an evil Mouse King. Since originating in Russia in 1892, it has become a signature production among many U.S. ballet companies.

Artistic director Toni Pimble’s rendition for Eugene includes Victorian costumes and a reworked romance. This week, on stage at the Silva Concert Hall, dancers rehearsed for their upcoming performances.

The professional cast comes off of a tour in Anchorage, Alaska this November. They are joined by over 150 children from the Eugene Ballet Academy.

According to Pimble, most of the company leads started in apprenticeship-like positions. She said a role in the ballet requires professionalism and discipline from young performers.

“Parents tell me that they see their young girls develop a sense of self, a sense of self worth, a comfortableness and a grace.”

Brian McWhorter heads Orchestra Next, which will play Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s original score. He said ballet can be very strenuous on the dancers, and musical communication is paramount.

“One of the things that I really love about conducting ballet is the need for myself to be responsive to what's happening on stage. Even after ten years, I'm still trying to do better by the dancers. I'm still trying to figure out how to get things swinging for them so that they feel good, so they dance better.”

McWhorter’s orchestra includes 55 musicians, with professional mentors and university students chosen from across the state. For some, it will be their first performances of the piece.

“The orchestra, it's about taking young, aspiring artists and showing them the ropes.”

This year, McWhorter will pass off leadership for the first time. Daniel Cho, a recent masters graduate from the University of Oregon, will conduct two of the seven shows.

Pimble, the artistic director, said Tchaikovsky’s iconic compositions are an entry-point for a larger audience.

“We see folks stepping into the auditorium that we don't see in a lot of our other productions. There they feel comfortable coming to see The Nutcracker. And they are people from all walks of life, all ages.”

McWhorter is particularly excited by the yearly turn-out of families.

“I love seeing these kids all dressed up. They're like two feet tall, and they're dressed to the nines... They're excited to sit in this big theater. They're excited to hear the music, they're excited to see the dancers. They're excited for all this spectacle that is The Nutcracker. That, I guess, is the enduring appeal of this piece, and of [Pimble's] production.”

Performances of the ballet will run this weekend and from next Wednesday through Sunday.

Nathan Wilk is a freelance reporter and former reporting intern. He began in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon. He is a senior at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.