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The big stage

Hillsboro's Betsy Lucas dances as principal for Nevada Ballet Theatre


December marks the 20th holiday season that Betsy Lucas has danced in Tchaikovsky’s Christmas classic, “The Nutcracker” ballet.

She was 4 years old the first time she performed.

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO: VIRGINIA TRUDEAU - Betsy Lucas plays Clara in Nevada Ballet Theatres production of The Nutcracker.Now, at 24, the 2008 Glencoe High School graduate is on the big stage, playing “Clara” in the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s (NBT) production at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.

Remembering back, Lucas laughs as she recalls several of her roles as a youngster.

“I was a snowflake, a party scene girl, a mouse and a bon-bon,” she said last week from Las Vegas during a break between rehearsals.

This is Lucas’ third year in NBT’s production of “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by NBT artistic director James Canfield, and her second year playing the role of Clara.

Canfield was the founding artistic director of the Oregon Ballet Theatre, and was with the local company from 1998 to 2003. He started with NBT as interim artistic director in 2008 and was appointed as permanent artistic director in 2009.

As one might expect from a Las Vegas production, the ballet is large, dynamic and colorful.

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Betsy Lucas“Visually it was very pleasing,” said Betsy’s mother, Kay Lucas, who lives in Hillsboro and went to Las Vegas to see her daughter perform on the play's opening weekend.

The production has about 100 dancers, according to Jenn Kratochwill, NBT’s director of public relations, and about 60 of those performers are children.

During the first act, a 40-foot-tall, larger-than-life three-story Victorian dollhouse sits on stage.

“Everything really pops,” Kratochwill said.

Betsy Lucas explained what it takes to be a lead dancer in “The Nutcracker.”

“In this version, Clara is definitely very much a part of every act," she said. "It’s really a journey through her growing up."

In some versions of the ballet, Lucas said, Clara is more an observer, watching her own dream unfold from the outside.

“Clara is really the one who carries the show,” Kratochwill said.

Lucas’ job is to carry the audience through Clara’s dream; to tell her story through dance.

“It can be physically and emotionally exhausting being on stage for so long,” Lucas said.

But at the same time, she pointed out that her demanding role "helps me mentally to tell the story, to keep the character going and alive.”

Born and raised in Hillsboro, Lucas graduated from Glencoe High School and went on to train with Oregon Ballet Theatre’s pre-apprentice group. This is her fifth season with NBT.

Lucas started her ballet journey with weekly lessons at Marchant Dance Academy in McMinnville.

Once she advanced to dancing en pointe – or dancing on her toes – Kay Lucas said, Betsy had to have lessons more than once a week, so they turned to Main Street Dance (now called New Vision Dance) in Hillsboro.

Betsy spent about nine years there taking lessons and perfecting her skills.

Lynn Stahr, one of Betsy’s instructors at New Vision and a family friend of the Lucases, also traveled to Las Vegas on opening weekend to see Betsy perform.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” Stahr said of the production. “It has a Las Vegas flair. It was incredible to see her dance. Clara is a huge role. She dances through the whole show.”

Stahr described Betsy as “very humble,” and said it was heartwarming to see her interacting with the younger audience members in the theater lobby after the show.

“Those little girls look up to her,” Stahr said.

Betsy remembers being one of the young dancers looking up to the professionals.

She recalls a third-grade Girl Scout field trip to Portland’s Park Blocks to see “Oregon Ballet Theatre Exposed,” an outdoor rehearsal with OBT’s dancers and choreographers.

“I really got to see behind the scenes” what a rehearsal looked like, Betsy said, and from that point she decided she wanted to become a professional ballet dancer.

“The Nutcracker” run ended Dec. 21. After eight performances (and two more for students in Nevada's Clark County schools), Betsy said she’s looking forward to a bit of a “lighter load” for a while.


kfuller@hillsborotribune.com
On Twitter: @ReporterFuller

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