IT'S AS PREDICTABLE and perennial as flu season. This weekend, Oregon Ballet Theatre opens George Balanchine's The Nutcracker—the most famous version of the most famous ballet in the world, the show is both a hallmark and an epitome of the holidays: half heartwarming, half cash cow. However, this year's production comes with some surprises, as it coincides with the departure of OBT's Artistic Director Christopher Stowell, a nine-year veteran of the company who attributes his resignation to OBT's decision to "adopt a new business model." (The company has had financial issues in the past; in 2009, they turned to fundraising to curtail a looming deficit of several hundred thousand dollars.)
Regardless, the show must go on. A week before The Nutcracker opens, the studio is aswarm. It's Saturday, and the company is running through the show's second act. Entering OBT, you're faced with tiny, wily synthetic beards and sparkles—mini nutcrackers sit on a red sales table accompanied by glistening snow globes. Inside the rehearsal room, the Sugar Plum Fairy skitters en pointe and approaches the glass partition; on the other side, a pallid preteen watches with droopy eyes. Behind her, pockets of children are seated pretzel-style, in circle formations on the floor. A grand piano alternates with tape recordings to play the famous Tchaikovsky score.
The Nutcracker is special. Rehearsals only last about two weeks, as opposed to, say, five weeks, because of the dancers' familiarity with the work. Regardless of the rote familiarity, the performances themselves seem "shot out of a cannon," as OBT Artistic Operations Director Anne Mueller describes it. Jumps are nearly five-feet high, capped with the horizontal splits (a straddle jump). A soloist will dance multiple parts within a performance, small and large roles, which will change throughout the years, serving as a gauge of talent (initially, a dancer plays a mouse, then maybe moves on to play Clara, or eventually the Sugar Plum Fairy).
In the rehearsal's close proximity, you feel literal gusts of wind while the company leaps across the stage, chocolate and candy cane incarnate. Behind the scenes, things at OBT are gusty too. In addition to Stowell bowing out, Marketing and Communications Director Trisha Mead announced her decision to leave last week. In the midst of the most familiar show, changes are afoot.