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Review: Students excel in 'Nutcracker' performance
A dancer from the Eugene Ballet Company performs "The Nutcracker" ballet with the Billings Symphony Orchestra during a rehearsal Saturday afternoon.

"The Nutcracker" is like a bowl of Christmas candy - familiar, sweet and oh so satisfying - if you can just keep those pesky mice away.

It takes a veritable army - musicians, dancers, vocalists - to put on the annual production of "The Nutcracker." So when it comes together as slickly as it did Saturday night at the Alberta Bair Theater, it's cause for celebration. The lobby was full of performers and audience members after Saturday night's performance, and it seemed that nobody wanted the evening to end.

Wide-eyed and grinning, young Bulent Helvaci sat in the lobby with his family after seeing his first ballet. The 8-year-old had been primed for "The Nutcracker" score because his music teacher, Julie Blakeslee at Boulder Elementary, has been playing the music for her students for the last few weeks.

"It was pretty cool," Bulent said. "My favorite part was when the boy broke the nutcracker. 'The 'March' is my favorite part of the music."

Another first-timer, cellist Lewis Rawlinson, who played in the orchestra pit, said the music is so beautiful, it draws you in. Even though orchestra members can't see much of what's happening on stage, he said playing the music is enough to keep the show interesting for them.

"It was fun; the music is just so gorgeous."

Under the direction of Anne Harrigan, the orchestra is made up of members of the Billings Symphony Orchestra. Harrigan uses a monitor to keep her musicians in sync with the dancers, but most of the musicians get only a glimpse or two of the show on stage.

Billings ballerina Hunter Howe, a Lewis and Clark eighth-grader, was red-faced but smiling after her performance as a party girl and a dancer in the "Waltz of the Flowers" scene.

"I've been doing 'Nutcracker' for eight years," Howe said. "This year it was en pointe, so it was harder."

In the "Waltz of the Flowers," the pairing of professional ballet dancers from the Eugene Ballet Co. and local ballet students went off incredibly smoothly. The student dancers blend in so well with the professionals that if it weren't for the different colors of their gowns, you might not be able to pick them out.

More than 60 local dancers performed as party kids, mice, ladybugs, a dragon, angels and flowers. Another 40 Billings students from the Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids completed the snow scene with song.

Jennifer Martin and Hyuk-Ku Kwon were the featured dancers as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Martin was stunning in her mastery of the pirouette, and Kwon's athleticism was flashy. A perennial crowd pleaser, the three Trepak Dancers didn't disappoint with their aerial game of leapfrog. And every time a group of local dancers came on stage, there were audible sighs among the capacity crowd.

Contact Jaci Webb at or 657-1359.