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Ballet Memphis joins Symphony for ‘The Nutcracker’

Ballet Memphis will bring 20 principal dancers for its Spokane performances of “The Nutcracker.”  Courtesy of Ballet Memphis (Courtesy of Ballet Memphis)
Ballet Memphis will bring 20 principal dancers for its Spokane performances of “The Nutcracker.” Courtesy of Ballet Memphis (Courtesy of Ballet Memphis)
Travis Rivers Correspondent

For the second straight year, Spokane audiences will see a new version of an old holiday favorite: “The Nutcracker.”

Ballet Memphis will be the Spokane Symphony’s new dance partner for four productions of the Christmas classic this weekend at the INB Performing Arts Center.

The Memphis company replaces Alberta Ballet, which last year unveiled its all-new “Nutcracker.”

The Canadian company’s touring schedule this season did not coincide with open dates at the INB, making it impossible for the symphony to continue their 20-year relationship.

“We looked at many ballet companies around the U.S. that met the high level of artistic excellence we require,” said Don Nelson, the symphony’s artistic director.

“We were happy to find Ballet Memphis, a dynamic professional company called ‘a national treasure’ in the Ford Foundation report. And amazingly their schedule worked with ours.”

Ballet Memphis, which has performed in New York and Paris, just completed a four-performance run of its “Nutcracker” last weekend. The company will bring 20 principal dancers and a truckload of scenery and costumes for a similar set of performances in Spokane.

Janet Parke, the principal of Ballet Memphis’ school and director of its junior company, choreographed the mood-setting party scene that opens “The Nutcracker.” It includes an expanded dance for Clara’s parents using the music of Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from his opera “Eugene Onegin.”

“Our ‘Nutcracker’ is pretty traditional in the way it looks,” Parke says. “But we have tried to show a story with every character – no matter where you look. Our ‘Nutcracker’ is not just about Clara and her Prince.”

Karl Condon, the company’s associate director, has set the battle scene of Act One and the scene in the Land of Snows that concludes the act.

Former Memphis Ballet dancer Joseph Jeffries – now a member of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – choreographed Act Two, with its divertissements and culminating Waltz of the Flowers.

Ballet Memphis’ principal dancers will be joined by 70 Spokane-area dancers, including Noah Huang as Fritz. Peggy Goodner-Tan and Dodie Askegard of the Ballet Academy of Spokane have worked with the local dancers since they were selected in September.

“We were so lucky,” Goodner-Tan says. “Janet Parke, who auditioned our local dancers, didn’t just come, select the dancers, hand us a DVD of the ballet and leave. She stayed and taught our dancers as well as Dodie and me all those roles, so we would really know what we were doing.”

The local dancers represent 11 ballet schools in the region and attend 30 public schools.

“We’re lucky, too, in having a live symphony which sounds so good accompanying the ballet,” Goodner-Tan says. “Many companies across the country use recorded music for their ‘Nutcrackers.’

“Plus we have the advantage of a cast of professional dancers for our student dancers to interact with.”

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