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Real-life couples dance 'The Nutcracker'

Chris Dorst
Three real-life couples will perform together when The Charleston Ballet and West Virginia Symphony Orchestra present "The Nutcracker" at the Clay Center on Friday and Saturday. From left are Jesse Tidquist and Rob Royce of Charleston, Chris and Karen Brinkley of Charleston and Oleksandr Vykhrest and Lauren Frere of the Columbia Classical Ballet.
See also: Local man surprises wife with role in 'The Nutcracker'WANT TO GO? "The Nutcracker"Presented by: The Charleston Ballet and West Virginia Symphony OrchestraWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday WHERE: Clay CenterTICKETS: Adults $20-$50, children $9-$30INFO: 304-561-3570 or CHARLESTON, -- Lauren Frere and Oleksandr Vykhrest of the Columbia (S.C.) Classical Ballet should be quite comfortable when they dance the Arabian Dance together during "The Nutcracker" this weekend at the Clay Center. They're a couple off stage as well as on.They're not the only ballet couple in the performance, either. Jesse Tidquist and Rob Royce, both of The Charleston Ballet, are also a couple. They'll dance separately: she as the lead in the Spanish Dance and in the Flower and Snow Corps, and he as a father at the party and a mouse in the battle scene. They've never danced a pas de deux together, but they will for the first time in Carnaval Rio at the Clay Center in January.Although Frere has danced the Arabian Dance many times, this will be the first time she's danced it with Vykhrest. The Charleston performance marks the couple's third "Nutcracker" performance this season. They've danced the Sugarplum Fairy together with the Columbia and Sarasota ballet companies earlier this year.They're not ideal partners height-wise because they're about the same height, but Frere still relishes opportunities to dance with Vykhrest."I'm very trusting of him. I know what he's going to do and he knows what I'm going to do," she said. "I also know he has my very best interests at heart because he cares for me."The downside is that she might voice her frustration more quickly than she would with another colleague. "You might say things that you wouldn't say to anyone else."
Frere and Vykhrest met five years ago when Frere first joined the Sarasota Ballet. It was her first professional position, and she was concentrating on learning the ropes. Vykhrest, who had emigrated from the Ukraine to join the Sarasota Ballet two years before, immediately noticed her.
"He told everyone that I was going to be his girlfriend," she said. "He was very persuasive and sweet."They've been together ever since.Their situation is not actually that unique, though. Most of the members of the Columbia Classical Ballet are couples, perhaps because their dedication to ballet and demanding schedule make it difficult to meet people outside their circle.Plus, dancers' common interest in ballet brings them together."It's easier to get together with someone who understands the level of commitment," Tidquist said. "I've dated other people who don't understand why I'm gone so much and rehearse so often, or why I'm always at the studio."Most maintain a distance at work and behave professionally if their personal relationship ends.
"In the studio, work is work. We have a passion for the art," Royce said. "The honesty of being in a relationship allows us to be more honest in the workplace. It's no holds barred."Tidquist and Royce have been together about five years as well. They danced with companies in Maryland and Philadelphia before settling in Charleston.When the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Charleston Ballet join to perform Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," the production features live music, an element often missing in the holiday favorite."I'm really excited to perform there with the orchestra," said Frere, who last performed with The Charleston Ballet last fall in "The Beatles and a Brat."This performance features more than 70 local dancers under the direction of Kim Pauley, the ballet's artistic director and choreographer. Maestro Grant Cooper conducts the orchestra.The Charleston Ballet's Rhiannon Turley will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy paired with Ilya Kozadayev of Houston Ballet as the Cavalier. Additional guest artists are Olivier Wecxsteen as Drosselmeyer, plus Freddie Fourie, Damien Highfield and Willie Moore.Charleston Ballet dancer Brigette Madden is Clara, and local artist Ted Brightwell will appear as Mother Ginger. Students from the American Academy Ballet will perform alongside artists of The Charleston Ballet.Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230.
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