'Nutcracker' returns with redesigned horses

Dori O'Neal, Herald staff writerNovember 30, 2012 

For the past 25 years, Debra and Joel Rogo have brought a shimmering performance of The Nutcracker to Tri-City ballet lovers.

During each of those years, the classical ballet was given a slight modification without changing the story that was set to music by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the late 1800s.

This year, the Nutcracker cavalry horses have been given a whole new look, said Joel Rogo, who co-directs the operation of the Mid-Columbia Ballet with his wife, who's also the company's artistic director.

The ballet will be Dec. 7-9 in the Richland High School auditorium.

"Sometimes we feel we just can't do this again, but when we see the excitement in the faces of all the children in the cast and see how much they love it, all those thoughts disappear," Joel said. "After all these years, we still love being a part of Nutcracker."

Carli Samuelson and James Moore, both from the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) in Seattle, will return this year, dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Samuelson, who grew up on the East Coast, danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet Co. before joining PNB in 2008. Moore trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet in New York City before joining PNB in 2004 and was promoted to soloist in 2008.

This year's ballet includes a recently acquired set of cavalry horses from the PNB that are used in a scene from Nutcracker, Rogo said.

"In 1997, we acquired six cavalry horses from PNB, and since then, they've bravely led their riders into battle during our own productions," he said.

Another six were purchased this summer from PNB, but the second-generation horses needed some refurbishing before they could be used.

Rogo hired Greg Elder and his wife, Jeannie, to redesign the horses. Elder, formerly of the Tri-Cities, is a professional set and costume builder in Seattle.

"Greg and Jeannie expertly removed all fabric layers, replaced the inner skin and created and applied new battle dress clothing, manes and tails along with decorative details," Rogo said. "We're proud to have these well bred and professionally restored horses join our production."

For those newcomers to the classic ballet, the story revolves around Clara, who is given a nutcracker doll from her godfather at a family gathering on Christmas Eve.

After everyone has gone to sleep, Clara tiptoes back to the Christmas tree to find her beloved nutcracker, who comes to life.

The Nutcracker ballet performances are at 7 p.m. each night with 2 p.m. matinees Dec. 8-9. Tickets cost $24 for adults, $18 for seniors and students and $13 for kids 13 and younger. Tickets are available at the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet, 21 Aaron Drive in Richland, at the door or by calling 946-5417.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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