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Byline: Paul Denison The Register-Guard

In the original E.T.A. Hoffman story on which "The Nutcracker" is based, the Mouse King has seven heads.

That's nothing. For Sara Lombardi and the staff of her Eugene School of Ballet, getting ready for annual performances of the beloved holiday spectacular involves weeks of work with a creature that this year has 200 heads, 400 arms and 400 legs.

Or would have, if all the young dancers were crammed into one room at the same time.

For this year's performances, the ballet school is providing the Eugene Ballet Company with 19 casts of children to fill the stage around Eugene Ballet's core of adults, who dance the major roles.

So that's 60 baby mice, 60 angels, 24 dragon legs, 24 ladybugs, 24 party children and eight waltzing flowers, ranging in age from 4 to 18.

``It is a lot of work, but it's worth it,'' Lombardi says. ``It's fun. It's a labor of love.''

This year, it will be even more "fun," because the Eugene Ballet Company is still out on tour - 34 shows in 20 venues in seven states - and will not arrive in Eugene in time for an orchestra rehearsal with the littler dancers.

The company arrives Friday, and that night is the first of five Hult Center performances.

One of the young dancers who probably will not be discombulated by the abrupt transition from rehearsal studio to live performance in Silva Concert Hall is 13-year-old Alexandra McGlade of Eugene. She has already been out on tour with the older professional dancers (on a brief trip around Oregon).

"She just fit in fine" on the tour and on stage, Lombardi says, adding that this is unusual for such a young dancer.

McGlade is listed in the program as "Alexander McGlade," which could be a mistake or deliberate deception. She dances the role of Fritz, Clara's younger brother.

"We're always short on male dancers who are strong enough to carry a part," Lombardi says.

Both Lombardi and Toni Pimble, Eugene Ballet's artistic director, have great confidence in McGlade.

``She's great,'' Pimble says. ``She has the discipline and she has the strength, a lot of strength for a 13-year-old. She's musical and a good performer. She's one to watch.''

Lombardi describes McGlade as "extremely talented, very, very skilled technically for her age, and her performing skills are phenomenal."

Lombardi also notes that McGlade is very small and fits the role of younger brother.

"The Nutcracker" has been a thrilling introduction to public performance for countless youngsters, many of whom stick with it long enough to become party children or waltzing flowers. And some of them go on to become professional dancers.

Lombardi notes that current Eugene Ballet Company dancers Kaitlin van Rossman and Mary Jane Ward started taking classes at the Eugene School of Ballet when they were 11 or 12.

"Not all cities have the privilege to work with a professional ballet company," says Lombardi, who has run the Eugene school since 1994. ``Toni always includes us.''

The school has provided young dancers for Eugene Ballet productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella," and will do the same for "Peter Pan - The Ballet" in February. …