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Inspire Dance Centre teacher, students find new twists and turns in 'Nutcracker' for run of shows at Mt. Hood Community College

If you go

What: Inspire Dance Centre presents its annual "An Evening with The Nutcracker"

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, and 1 and 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14.

Where: Mt. Hood Community College Theater, 26000 S.E. Stark St.

Cost: Reserved tickets, $20

Visit: or call 503-674-8620

COURTESY PHOTO: INSPIRE DANCE CENTRE - A cast of 64, mostly comprising Inspire Dance Centre students, perform in An Evening With The Nutcracker for three shows on Dec. 13 and 14. Debbie Pierce credits her loyalty to "The Nutcracker," which her Inspire Dance Centre performs annually at Mt. Hood Community College, to deprivation as a child growing up in, of all places, Seattle.

"There was no 'Nutcracker,'" she claimed. "No company was doing it, no touring companies. There was no opportunity to ever be in 'The Nutcracker,' all the way through high school. I decided, when I started a studio at Mt. Hood Ballet Academy 30-odd years ago, that we would do it. I'm giving them the opportunity I didn't get to have growing up.

"Then," she added, "it got to be, 'I think Gresham deserves this Nutcracker. It's something artistic (beyond) just sports.' I still tell (students), 'You are so lucky to have the opportunity to perform these roles.' It gives them an education, in staging and working together as a team."

Pierce and Inspire Dance will deliver their latest production of "An Evening With The Nutcracker" for three shows, 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 13, and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at the MHCC Theater, 26000 S.E. Stark St., Gresham.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Students Piper Conti and Jacob Tavera, with Inspire Dance Center, perform An Evening With The Nutcracker last year at Mt. Hood Community College.

Performed mostly by Inspire students from the Gresham area, the show brings to life Tchaikovsky's classic ballet about a girl's fantastic adventures with a toy nutcracker given by her Godfather on Christmas Eve.

This is the fourth year the dance center at 485 N.E. Burnside Road has performed the ballet, though it is Pierce's 23rd time leading a "Nutcracker" production, which she started with the Mt. Hood Ballet Company she founded.

The "Nutcracker" story's durability derives from the enchanting power it has over children, as well as adults, for whom the production and music take them back to childhood days.

"It's just an age-old story that children are mesmerized by," Pierce said.

With the exception of adults playing the character's parents, all roles are performed by dance center students who have been training since September. For some of the cast of 64, it's their first time in a full-length ballet.

"They love it, and they work really hard," Pierce said. "Just the level of dedication it takes to do that when you're a young person. It shows in the end result of their technique. They're really good.

"Each year our kids have grown in technique so rapidly and dramatically," Pierce added, noting that one group of dancers will perform en pointe, the challenging tip-toe style of dance for which ballerinas are famous. "It takes years before they are skilled enough to dance a ballet like that en pointe."CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Student Dillan Rittmiller, with Inspite Dance Center, performs An Evening With The Nutcracker last year at Mt. Hood Community College.

One of those students this year is Barlow High School junior Dillan Ritmiller, who plays the part of "Clara," which normally goes to a younger girl.

"She's been at Inspire from the beginning," Pierce noted. "She's beautiful but has the aura of a young child at the same time. She's doing a great job."

Another dancer, Piper Conti, a Corbett High School junior who plays the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy, earned a full scholarship to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

"She's just amazing," Pierce said. "She has the whole package that you need be a professional dancer."

Each year, the Inspire Dance production features new sets, props and costuming. This year's most notable new addition is a bona fide sleigh built by Eric Oatfield, the husband of Inspire's office manager Debbie Oatfield.

"He built it in his spare time," Pierce said. "It will be going through the snow as the snow's falling down. It's gonna be a really nice addition."

If Pierce has any "Nutcracker" fatigue after 24 years, it doesn't seem to show.

"Every year I say 'this is best 'Nutcracker' we've done,'" she said. "It holds true this year."CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Students Piper Conti and Jacob Tavera, with Inspire Dance Center, perform 'An Evening With The Nutcracker' last year at Mt. Hood Community College.

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