Community Collaboration Brings “The Nutcracker” To Life

Lane Barton

On Dec. 13, the Walla Walla community will have the opportunity to view two performances of the “The Nutcracker” in Cordiner Hall. The return of this biannual event, set up by the Walla Walla Symphony and Eugene Ballet Company with support from the Dance Center of Walla Walla and other community members, gives community members the opportunity to experience the classic Christmas ballet while also uniting local groups and out-of-town professionals.

“This collaboration between the four of our organizations gives the community excellent ballet and music performances as well as local ballet dancers and singers the opportunity to participate with professional dancers and musicians,” said Ida Hutson-Fish, instructor and choreographer at the Dance Center of Walla Walla.

Contributed photo by Jon Christopher Meyers Photography.
Contributed photo by Jon Christopher Meyers Photography.

Collaboration between the Walla Walla Symphony and Eugene Ballet Company is nothing new. The two organizations have put on various performances together over the past 10 years, including productions of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty”, Ravel’s “Bolero” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” But the biannual production of “The Nutcracker” is a signature of their cooperative work, as it incorporates local performers in addition to these two professional organizations.

“We really enjoy collaborations at the Symphony. I think it is a wonderful way to deepen and enhance a performance and showcase more of the wonderful talent in our community. Most of our concerts involve a collaboration of some sort, but the Nutcracker is certainly one of the most complex collaborations we undertake in our season,” said Leah Wilson-Velasco, CEO of the Walla Walla Symphony.

Preparation for the production starts weeks before the actual performance. A member from the Eugene Ballet Company leads auditions for local ballet performers from ages five to 16 to serve as baby mice, bon bons and other small roles months in advance of the December event.

Once selections are made, the youth performers are trained by Huston-Fish up until a few days prior to the event, when the pace of rehearsal quickens. At this point, a choir composed of middle and high school students directed by Dr. Christine Janis and the Walla Walla Symphony has been rehearsing separately, and when the Eugene Ballet Company arrives, all-group rehearsals, costume fittings and set production all occur in a well-organized whirlwind.

“The Eugene [Ballet] Company has done ‘The Nutcracker’ so many times that they come to town completely ready to go, with backdrops for sets, their own dance floor and beautiful costumes. The orchestra rehearses the week of the performances with two separate string section rehearsals, then a tutti rehearsal for all the players and finally one dress rehearsal only with the dance company. So it comes together very fast indeed,” said Ed Dixon, orchestra manager of the Walla Walla Symphony.

All this important work occurs in the span of about two days, requiring significant focus and teamwork between all parties in a short period of time. However, the success of previous performances of “The Nutcracker” points to another excellent showing in Walla Walla that all parties can be extremely proud of.

“I think it is important to note that the Walla Walla Symphony is making the commitment to make this production happen at Cordiner Hall with a full orchestra, a professional ballet company and local students all involved is a wonderful event that folks in Walla Walla should be very proud to support,” said Toni Pimble, artistic director of the Eugene Ballet Company.