Eugene Ballet 'Nutcracker'

Yoshie Oshima and Juan Carlos Amy-Cordero dance the pas de deux for Eugene Ballet’s "Nutcracker."

Courtesy of Eugene Ballet

Ballerinas will pirouette, giant mice will scamper and Arabian dancers will slink across Southwest Washington stages this weekend as “The Nutcracker” makes its annual holiday appearance.

The Eugene Ballet, a professional company with a company of 21, will return to the Columbia Theatre with one performance Sunday.

Throughout the weekend, the Southwest Washington Dance Center will do five performances of its “Nutcracker” with a cast of mostly amateur dancers at Centralia College.

The tale of the girl Clara who gets a nutcracker toy for Christmas and is magically transported through a kingdom of dancing delights has become a holiday season tradition.

That poses a challenge for choreographers, who want to provide audiences with their favorite familiar scenes but tweak the ballet to keep it fresh.

Erica Castro, who’s in her first year as Southwest Washington Dance Center artistic director, said she and assistant Russell Capps “have changed quite a bit” of that company’s production. Castro choreographed Evergreen Dance Center’s production of “Nutcracker” here a year ago; Capps is a native of Longview.

Castro said directors have many versions of “Nutcracker” choreography to build from. Some directors add music by composers other than Tchaikovsky, she said. “There was at least one Mozart” piece in Southwest Washington Dance Center’s previous productions, which she has omitted this year.

In some productions, Clara and her prince spend much of the time watching others dance. “We’ve made Clara a bigger role, so it’s not relying fully on acting,” Castro said. “The nutcracker has a bigger dancing role.”

Castro and Capps have choreographed new snow and waltz of the flowers scenes. But tradition will step on stage -- the grand pas de deux is a directly from Marius Petipa, the choreographer in Tchaikovsky’s era, she said.

Striking a balance in choreography is as challenging as twirling en pointe, Castro said.

“There are those who want the same, and there are those that want change. You can’t make everyone happy. We believe that what we’re working towards is a high level of quality that is held by the dance world. We have to prepare our dancers to go out into the dance world.”

The Chehalis-based studio has about 200 children who have roles, plus adults who appear in some scenes. It hires a professional dancer for the male lead. “Male dancers are hard to come by,” Castro noted.

Eugene Ballet features new cast

The Eugene Ballet production is quite different, with a cast of 21 professional dancers and about 50 local children. The kids will appear as baby mice, party children, angels, and bon bons who emerge from under Mother Ginger’s giant skirt.

The little mice appear only briefly, said Eugene Ballet artistic director Toni Pimble. However, “they’re very, very cute and they always steal the show,” she said.

Pimble said she doesn’t change her choreography much from year to year. “The thing that changes the most is the casting. We have a brand new Clara and Nutcracker Prince.”

Clara is danced by Suzanne Haag, who has a degree in dance and arts administration from Butler University in Indianapolis.

Takeru Anzai, the nutcracker prince, is a native of Japan who is in his first season with Eugene Ballet.

Yoshie Oshima, the sugar plum fairy, is also from Japan, and Petr Orlov (Herr Drosselmeyer) is from Russia.

Juan Carlos Amy-Cordero, who dances the male lead part of the cavalier, trained in Boston and San Francisco before joining Eugene Ballet Company in 2002.

Eugene Ballet does four ballet productions a year at its home base and tours throughout five or six different states every year.

The “Nutcracker” company travels with a four-person production crew, including a pyrotechnician.

“We have a cannon that goes off and fire on the pirate mouse ship,” Pimble said. “There are some fun exploding parts.”

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