Students Join Oregon Ballet Theater’s Professional Nutcracker Production


Senior, Karenna Hall on the left with Lainie Pennington, junior, on the right.

By Kira Chan, Copy Editor

Junior Lainie Pennington and senior Karenna Hall are taking on company roles in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker, a high honor.

“It was very exciting to be cast to learn a company role, but also very nerve wracking,” said Hall.

Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) is the largest professional ballet company in Oregon. Pennington and Hall are both students in the highest level at OBT’s school, and this year they were cast for professional roles in the Corps de Ballet, the first tier in ballet companies.

Pennington and Hall have extensive dancing backgrounds, both starting at age three, but this is the first time they have been cast into company positions.

“I saw that I got cast and I was really excited but also really nervous because it’s a lot of pressure and I’m expected to be very professional, and perform well, and it’s a real test of your training,” said Pennington.

Both girls expressed the level of physical commitment this year has. “You can’t breathe and you can’t feel your feet and you’re just going and going and going, all while trying to be beautiful and graceful,” said Pennington.

Hall agreed, saying, “Pretty much everything is jumping or running, plus you still have to look just as pretty even when you’re tired, which is so hard.”

The Nutcracker is a classic holiday story about a girl, Marie, whose Nutcracker comes alive and takes her to a magical kingdom of sweets. Pennington and Hall are both learning the roles of snowflakes in the Snow scene in Act I, and flowers in The Waltz of the Flowers in Act II. OBT puts on 19 shows of The Nutcracker every year, which has become an annual tradition in the Portland community. The company performs at the Keller Auditorium downtown which seats around 3,000 people. Most nights, the theater is sold out.

When dancing the children’s roles, Pennington and Hall performed in up to every single one. With the upgrade of having a company role, many dancers are in line for the same spot, so it’s not guaranteed that they’ll perform in every show.

“I’ve been doing The Nutcracker for around four years,” said Pennington. “With the children’s roles it’s a little bit goofier and you’re in silly costumes, but now it’s like, there’s a very real possibility I’ll get to wear a tutu and a crown, and it makes it feel more real. It makes all the hours you spend in the studio worth it.”

Rehearsals for the show began in early November. They are time consuming, cutting into school almost every day. Company members get 48 hour notices in advance for when they’re needed for rehearsals, making it more difficult to predict when they’ll be missing school.

“It’s a huge time commitment,” said Hall. “We have rehearsal every day from 3 p.m. to about 5:30, and then on top of that we have our normal technique classes, which can go from 5:30 until 8:45 at night…I’ve definitely learned a ton about time management, even in the last few weeks. Prioritizing is really important when I end up starting homework at 9:45.”

Despite the long hours and physical commitment of The Nutcracker, the joy of being in the show appeared to prevail. Pennington said, “It’s just really special to dance as a group with all these amazing dancers.”

Tickets are available online for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker,” running at the Keller Auditorium from Dec. 9 to Dec. 24.