The Nutcracker of Middle Georgia’s annual performances are a sign that Christmas time is here in the midstate.
Since 1984, the ballet production about a little girl and her magical nutcracker doll has been performed for thousands of adults and children alike.
This year, the 129 cast members — from 10 local dance studios and six professional dancers from around the country — will bring the magical ballet to life starting Wednesday at the Grand Opera House in Macon.
Long before the production arrives on stage, it all starts in the fall, with rehearsals. During that time, when the dancers get together it’s almost like a reunion, said Maria Thompson, a 17-year-old home-schooled junior who has been dancing for 13 years and has been part of the “Nutcracker” for nine years.
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“It’s so much fun. I enjoy the thrill of it,” said Thompson, who performs as a Spanish dancer and a flower.
The ballet has such longevity that some former cast members’ children are now part of the show.
Audie Clark, a senior at Mount de Sales Academy, played the part of Clara in 2014. Her mother, Jenny Clark, was Clara in 1985.
“I love being part of this show. I can’t imagine not doing it,” the 17-year-old Clark said. This year, Clark will portray a Spanish dancer and a flower. Clara will be performed this year by Aubree Bethune.
Having amateurs and professionals in the same show gives the younger performers a chance to see what standards a professional ballet dancer has to achieve, said managing director Mariana Gebara.
“It brings us to another level,” Gebara said about including professional dancers in the production.
One of the many benefits to the show is that it allows local male dancers to work with professional male dancers, she said.
Dance, said Gebara, teaches children discipline — the sort of discipline where dancers arrive at rehearsals 30 minutes early to warm-up and tie on their ballet slippers.
It is the sort of discipline that keeps 14-year-old Savannah Terrell motivated to move up to the next level. She currently dances in the Chinese performance but wants to be a Spanish dancer in a future production of the “Nutcracker.”
“It’s just really, really fun. I love performing for a big crowd for a couple days in a row,” said Terrell, an eighth grade student at First Presbyterian Day School.
Ages for the cast are quite diverse, with the youngest being 8 years old while the grandfather, played by Kent Mueller, is in his 70s.
Some school children in Bibb, Twiggs, Laurens and Jones counties will be able to get a behind-the-scenes performance in the days leading up to opening night. The ballet started this tradition in 1991 and has continued it ever since.
“They get the best show of all,” Gebara said.
The nearly 1,000 third-graders get to see the technical aspect of the show as the curtains aren’t drawn at the end of the acts so students can see the sets moved, the stage cleaned of snow and the backdrops changed.
“We do this with Title I schools to expose children (to ballet) who wouldn’t be financially able to see a ballet,” Gebara said.