Arts & Entertainment

'Nutcracker' returns to the stage

It wouldn't be Christmas without the music and fantasy of The Nutcracker.

So why not forget about the sagging economy for a while, gather up your loved ones or anyone else who might need an escape from everyday life, and dream a little dream with Clara, her Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy?

The Mid-Columbia Ballet will bring the story to life Dec. 12-13 in the auditorium at Richland High School.

"Bad news about the economy hasn't dimmed the joy of Nutcracker," said Joel Rogo, co-director of the ballet company.

Rogo and his wife Debra, the company's artistic director, have added a few surprises for this year's production.

One of those is the return of veteran Tri-City dancer Whitney Simler Popp.

Popp, who now lives in New York with her husband Corbin, is pregnant with twins and coming home for their birth.

"Whitney has probably danced every role in Nutcracker at one time or another since childhood, including Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy," Joel Rogo said.

Though Popp won't be performing in a dancing role this year, she'll still be an integral part of the production.

"Whitney and her husband will play Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum (Clara's parents)," Rogo said.

Rogo can't remember ever seeing a pregnant Mrs. Stahlbaum in a Nutcracker production, even when he and his wife danced professionally with ballet companies from Australia to the United States.

"A pregnant Mrs. Stahlbaum -- it could be a ballet first," he joked.

Meaghan Hinkis and Irlan Silva are the guest artists who will dance the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier this year.

"The guest artists we (initially) had lined up from the Pacific Northwest Ballet were suddenly unable to do it," Rogo said. "We put out the call to our friends around the country and the American Ballet Theatre II called us with these amazing young dancers (Hinkis and Silva)."

The role of Clara will be danced by 11-year-old Lindsey Clements, and Clara's uncle, Herr Drosselmeyer, will be portrayed by Korry Watkins.

This will be the Mid-Columbia Ballet's 33rd Nutcracker performance. Rogo reminisced recently about all the people who contributed to the success of the ballet for decades.

"There are people playing party parents (at Clara's parents Christmas party) who have no other connection to the ballet other than Nutcracker," he said. "It's like their annual reunion."

Some have been "party parents" for almost two decades, whether they have children performing in the show or not, he added.

There are two versions of the ballet that have been performed, professionally and semi-professionally, for more than a century around the world.

There's The Nutcracker, which is the full-length version of the classic Tchaikovsky tale. And there's The Nutcracker Suite, which is the same story but shorter. The Mid-Columbia Ballet performs the full-length version.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;