Arts & Culture

A midwinter night’s dream

Ivar Vong

For many dance students, an audition for a part with a professional ballet company in its biggest show of the year might be a stressful experience.

Not for 14-year-old Savannah Quinn.

“You just smile and dance,” she said brightly.

Quinn has performed with the Eugene Ballet Company in every one of its annual productions of The Nutcracker since she was 6 years old. The Nutcracker is typically the production company’s biggest show and presents opportunities for students of various ages and levels of experience to perform with the ballet company in front of a packed audience at Eugene’s Hult Center.

Those performances are a far cry from the small audiences at productions by the Eugene Ballet Academy, where she takes dance lessons.

In addition to her role in EBC’s The Nutcracker and the 15 hours a week she spends training, Quinn has another new challenge this year: She will play the lead role of Clara in Eugene Youth Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. “It’s a lot more acting and it’s really fun,” Quinn said of the performances, which are a division of the Eugene Ballet Academy and will take place around town in retirement centers and local schools.

But before the training and performances begin, Quinn, like everyone else, must try out for the parts.

For Quinn, a more seasoned dance student, the drama of auditions doesn’t stem from her own performance, but from watching how her younger friends perform in auditions.

Quinn said the community within the Academy functions as a family.

“We are all friends with the younger kids because we work with them a lot,” she said.
This year, many of her friends will transition into the more challenging roles as children at the party.

“It is a big step up for them,” she said. “They will get a lot more stage time than they have in the past.”

Sara Lombardi, director of the Academy, said that while ongoing rehearsals for The Nutcracker prepare the dancers for the show – most of whom have been studying dance and watching the show for so long, they often know the basic choreography before they even audition.

“They learn a lot up front so that the last two to three weeks are just cleaning,” Lombardi said.

While the professional dancers in the EBC make up the majority of the cast, there are auditions for smaller roles that younger dancers are eligible for. The parts range from angels and baby mice for the newest students, to Bon Bons for the intermediate students and party children for the most advanced students.

Although a variety of parts are available, not everyone gets cast in the role he or she wants. Lombardi said most students come into the auditions with “high hopes,” but even students who don’t get to perform in The Nutcracker or other shows still gain valuable experience about dance and life through the auditioning process.

“What we give is an appreciation of the art, but also developing a human being,” Lombardi said.

Mia Jackson, whose daughter Ally successfully auditioned to be one of the Bon Bons for the second year in a row, said, “It’s good experience for them to be up there with someone watching them and all the while knowing they have to do their best.”

Quinn’s role as a party child is familiar, as she has played it several times before. However, casting did have a new twist this year: Quinn will play one of the male party-goers.

“This year, I have to be mean, like a boy, instead of prissy and pretty,” she laughed, enthusiastic about the new costume and challenge.

For young dancers, being in front of a large audience and working with the professionals is a large part of what makes it so much fun.

“Getting to dance with all the company dancers is one of the highlights of the production,” Lombardi said. She added that for many students, dancing with the company gives them a window into the world of professional dance that they might not otherwise get to experience.

Many students say dancing ballet has given them a confidence that carries over into other areas of their life.

While Quinn is unsure whether she wants to attempt a career in professional ballet, she believes dance has boosted her self-confidence.

Lombardi, the Academy director, believes that regardless of whether a student has the ability to dance professionally, dance is a valuable life experience. What stands out to her most is “the child who lives and breathes dance,” and Lombardi said some Academy students are born to dance.

“It is not a choice; they are driven to it,” she said.

Lombardi said Quinn is one of those students. “We just love her here!” she said. “Savannah is a leader and a performer.”

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