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What is it about "The Nutcracker" that makes it such a holiday tradition?

"I don't think that I would have the Christmas spirit that I do" without the ballet, said Heather Hill of Albany's Legacy Ballet company, which stages its annual "Nutcracker" beginning tonight and continuing through the weekend at Linn-Benton Community College. "It feels like a gift to the audience." 

"It just makes Christmas Christmas," said Shelly Svoboda of the Regional School of Ballet, which stages its annual "Nutcracker" Friday and Saturday at Corvallis High School. "It wouldn't be Christmas without it."

Both Hill and Svoboda have the experience to back up their statements: Svoboda has been staging "Nutcracker" productions for nearly three decades now. Hill's Legacy Ballet company has been producing "Nutcracker" performance since 2012.

Both choreographers say one of the pleasures of working with "The Nutcracker" year after year is watching young dancers grow up from the smallest roles into the biggest that the show has to offer. "To see them go from little mice and now they're dancing Clara, that's very rewarding," Hill said. 

"Nutcracker" fans may well want to see both productions this weekend. Here's a bit of detail about both shows:

Legacy Ballet

This year's Legacy production includes a male dancer, Brenden Murray, as the cavalier, a partner to the Sugar Plum Fairy. Hill said Murray is active in the New York City dance scene but is home in the mid-valley for a time and so was able to join the Legacy cast. 

Having Murray in the cast allows the addition of a couple of dance scenes that otherwise frequently get trimmed,  Hill said. 

This year's production at LBCC also includes new lighting effects and one big special effect: Thanks to the addition of a snow cradle at the Russell Tripp Performance Center, audiences will witness "snow" when it's called for in the ballet. 

Hill said $1 from each ticket sold will be donated to FISH of Albany, a nonprofit that helps supply food and other emergency services. In addition, proceeds from concession sales will be donated to FISH. Last year's contribution added up to about $2,000, she said.

Performance dates and times are 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6 and Friday, Dec. 7 and 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Russell Tripp Performance Center, 6500 SW Pacific Blvd. in Albany. Tickets are $14 and are available at the door and online at this web address: https://www.linnbenton.edu/current-students/involvement/performing-arts/buy-tickets.php

Regional School of Ballet 

One big change in Svoboda's production this year: Rick Wallace, who has played Drosselmeyer for years, was unavailable to play the role this season, so Svoboda reached out to another community personality: Warren "Skip" Volkmann will take on the part in this production — and it's been fun, she said, to see the two different approaches to the role.

The Mouse King this year is being played by Will Hander, the father of a dancer. Svoboda said he intends to make an unusual entrance this year, but it would be a shame to say more.

This year's show features some new choreography, new costumes and "a snow scene that's really beautiful," she said.

Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7 and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 at Corvallis High School, 1400 Buchanan St. Tickets are $15 and are available at Burst's Candies in downtown Corvallis and at the door.

As in years past, the company also is hosting a Mouse King Tea Party, a way for younger audiences to get familiar with the story. The event, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8 at noon at Corvallis High School, includes a chance to meet the characters, watch a condensed version of the ballet and have tea. Tickets are $8 and are available at Burst's and at the door.

One more "Nutcracker" waits in the wings: The Eugene Ballet is bringing its production to the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. Next week's E section will have details about that production. 

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