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The Nutcracker Ballet

"The Nutcracker," it seems, is for life. "People come to it who have seen it since they were children," says Ballet Rogue Artistic Director Diane Gaumond Hyrst. "It's something they have come to cherish, something to do with their family."

Ballet Rogue will present the familiar dance classic in performances from Friday through Sunday, Dec. 19-21, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford.

Based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," by E.T.A. Hoffman, the ballet features a score by Tchaikovsky and classic choreography by Marius Petipa. It is the story of little Clara's nutcracker doll being broken by a jealous brother and the transformation of everyday reality into a magical journey.

Ballet Rogue first performed the show in 1987, choreographed by the late Eric Hyrst, who studied with Nicholas Sergeyev, who staged Petipa's work in London. Diane says she keeps Eric's first-act choreography but makes major changes to the rest of the production each year.

"I do my best to keep it alive," she says.

She says the colors and costumes are new this year as well as the snow and some of the dancing, including a new waltz. The color palette runs from pearl grays to fuchsia and rose.

"It's still the 1860s," she says.

It's a big production, with some 60 dancers.

"It's a wonderful cast," she says.

Work on the show starts in July. As the performance dates draw closer, it becomes a 12-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week project accounting each year for about half of Ballet Rogue's annual budget of about $100,000.

In the story, Clara's nutcracker toy becomes a dashing prince, and battles break out between the mouse queen and her mousy minions and the toy soldiers commanded by the nutcracker captain. Clara journeys to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, where among other wonders she encounters dancing snowflakes and gumdrop angels.

Gaumond Hyrst supplements her student dancers with professional dancers for the show. Brad Rahmlow, who is originally from Ashland, will be on hand from New York. Lane Hunter, of Portland, will reprise the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer.

Mellissa Framiglio will return as the Sugarplum Fairy. Heather Jackson will dance the role of the Snow Queen, and Scott Trumbo will dance with both Framiglio and Jackson. All three live in Portland. The other cast members are from the Rogue Valley.

Dancers sometimes grow in and out of roles, Gaumond Hyrst says. Some of the dancers began as tots cast as mice and move up over the years to become cooks and eventually more complex characters such as Ponchinella or Marzipan.

Gaumond Hyrst says this year's show boasts lots of new tutus, including some acquired from Russia, costumes and scenery. Volunteers play a big role in making sure the show gets on. Fund-raisers have ranged from wine tastings to cookie dough tubs to a Ballet Rogue Merchandise Boutique this year in the Craterian lobby.

A scene from a Ballet Rogue production of 'The Nutcracker.' - Photo courtesy of Ballet Rogue