The holiday spirit is strong in the studios at the Midtown Arts Center. Eugene Ballet…
More than 20 months ago, our community began to rely even more on our everyday heroes showing up and ensuring we were safe, healthy, fed, and connected. As a member of the local business community for more than 40 years, Eugene Ballet is deeply appreciative of those committed workers, all contributing great feats of strength and resilience in the face of a global pandemic. To honor and recognize our First responders, Essential workers, Artists, Teachers, and Students, Eugene Ballet has created the FEATS program, bringing our community together at our beloved annual family-friendly event, The Nutcracker.
The most performed ballet across America, The Nutcracker brings so many people together just to produce it! For Eugene Ballet, it is an exciting opportunity for students and professional company dancers to share the stage. For Orchestra Next (celebrating its 10-year anniversary), The Nutcracker brings first chair professional musicians to share their expertise with student musicians. For our audience members, this wondrous tale of dreams and celebration creates the tradition of family coming together—dressing up, stepping into the Hult Center for the Performing Arts lobby to greet friends, sharing the beauty of the performance, and reveling in all of the holiday joy that is The Nutcracker.
There are many reasons to bring our community together this holiday season, yet after months of pandemic life, it can be challenging to return to old patterns, habits, and traditions. The FEATS program creates an opportunity for local businesses to honor their own employees, or to recognize other essential workers and their families, at The Nutcracker.
The pandemic meant The Nutcracker had to be kept under wraps in 2020, a heartbreaking decision for Eugene Ballet and its professional and student dancers. This year, starting December 17 at the Hult Center, there are seven performances available, more than any season to date. “There was such a strong pull to make as many shows available, not simply because of social distancing and other COVID-19 safety guidelines,” explained Executive Director Josh Neckels. “We wanted to provide space for the people that have worked so hard through these times, to be with friends and family, and enjoy the holidays, as a thank you for all that they did and do for us.”
Creativity From Challenge
Artistic Director Toni Pimble is eager to see the results of her efforts during the ballet’s absence in 2020. “We were working so diligently to try to bring a smaller production to the stage last December, but there were too many obstacles,” she explained. In an effort to keep students and professional dancers safe for rehearsals and live shows, Pimble reworked several sections of her original choreography, creating a need for new costumes. “Designing and sewing the costumes for our new Snowflakes scene helped to keep my sights on bringing us all back to the Hult Center stage in 2021,” Pimble said. The Snowflakes scene, a more traditional component of many Nutcracker ballets, will replace Eugene Ballet’s Winter Kingdom Skaters scene. “Do not fret,” Pimble said, “there will be snow!”
Sharing And Bringing Joy
Emily J. Payne, Associate Director of Donor Engagement at Eugene Ballet, has been moved to tears listening to the stories that businesses share as they discuss FEATS honorees. “In the midst of it all, we knew so many people were doing their jobs and more, but not how the intensity and the uncertainty of it all was really affecting everyone,” she said.
Company Dancer Sara Stockwell experienced some of this distress firsthand, while the stages were dark. “Working with a retina specialist, since there are very few here and many patients need treatment at regular intervals, the doctor would sometimes see 60 patients in a day! There was no way around it. His team had to work very efficiently, and with empathy and attentiveness.”
Gary LeClair, Associate Medical Director at Bristol Hospice in Springfield, also witnessed the overwhelming stress and sees FEATS as one way to share his love of dance. “Bristol Hospice is proud to honor our hospice workers who provided ongoing end-of-life care to patients during this pandemic. We are delighted our employees will be able to enjoy the return of The Nutcracker with their families this holiday season,” LeClair said.
Michael Syman-Degler, CLU, CFP®, principal and founder at the Syman-Degler Group and one of Eugene Ballet’s biggest fans (aka Eugene Ballet’s Board of Directors President), is sharing his love of ballet with the firm’s clients and their families using the FEATS program. “We are distributing ticket vouchers to our clients with young families, to expand our family of ballet, and appreciate the work we do together. It’s such a big win-win-win for us,” he noted.
Taking That Step
How does FEATS work? Carrie Stone, Associate Director of Donor Engagement at Eugene Ballet, noted that the program is a subset of Eugene Ballet’s Access to Dance program where sponsors provide ticket vouchers that are offered to area social service agencies. “As a business partner in the program, your participation can provide from 12 to 500 Nutcracker tickets to distribute to your own employees or to designated FEATS workers,” she explained. “Examples of those everyday heroes include healthcare providers, law enforcement, public safety, firefighters, paramedics, military personnel, food and agriculture, social services, critical services, municipal services, delivery services, working artists, child care providers, educations services, and students,” Stone added.
FEATS business partners receive special recognition at all performances of The Nutcracker plus ticket vouchers with a 50 percent discount toward the remaining productions in Eugene Ballet’s 2021/22 Season at the Hult Center: Celebration of the Uncommon Woman (February 12–13), Heaven and Earth (April 16–17), and Taming of the Shrew (May 14–15). Learn more at eugeneballet.org