Each year the Eugene Ballet Company invites young dancers from every city it tours to perform in its production of "The Nutcracker."
More than a decade ago, Reed Souther of Corvallis auditioned to play one of the party kids in the classic holiday ballet. He couldn't believe he got the role.
Thursday night at the LaSells Stewart Center, Souther, now 25, enters his third season portraying The Nutcracker Prince in the two-act ballet.
"I've been on both sides of it, I guess," Souther said in an interview with The E.
Souther began his dancing career at the Corvallis Academy of Ballet, under Jutta Hardison, and trained there until he was 16. He moved to New York to study during his high school years.
He returned to the mid-valley to take an apprentice job with Eugene Ballet Company, and was eventually promoted to a company dancer position.
"Reed came to us as a young dancer with plenty of talent some seven years ago," said the company's artistic director, Toni Pimble. "He has a very clean technique with beautiful footwork."
Pimble said Souther was fairly green in his first years with the company in dancing with a partner, but has grown tremendously.
Those partnering skills are important to Souther's role in "The Nutcracker." He appears as Hans in the opening party scene and in Clara's dream as The Nutcracker Prince who must battle the Mouse King. He also dances with Clara (Beth Maslinoff) at the end of Act I, and again in the waltz of the flowers during Act II, Pimble said.
Did Souther ever think he would go from dancing party kid to a principal role in the world-famous ballet?
"That's every young dancer's aspiration, but you don't really think it's going to happen until it does," he said.
Pimble said The Eugene Ballet Company's production is a lighthearted approach to "The Nutcracker." Disney designer Don Carson designed the sets, so they are child-friendly visual delights, she said.
The inclusion of children in the production has always added to its appeal, Pimble said.
"The Nutcracker" tour begins in Corvallis with 40 local students performing, mostly from the Corvallis Academy of Ballet rehearsing with teacher Megan Skinner.
Souther's sisters, Julie, 16, and Nina, 13, are two of the 40 dancers. He said it will be fun to be on stage with them.
The production tours 15 cities in four states, and will have performed with about 1,200 students by the time they finish final performances in Klamath Falls on Dec. 22, Pimble said.
Maybe one of those 1,200 young dancers will be the next Reed Souther.