Originally created 11/30/97

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The sugar plum fairy will be dancing out of your head and onstage at the Augusta Ballet's 27th performance of the Nutcracker Suite Ballet this weekend.

In 1891, the Imperial Theater Directorate at St. Petersburg commissioned Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky to write a one-act lyric opera with ballet. Based on Alexandre Dumas' French adaptation of the E.T.A. Hoffman story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, it was first presented on Dec. 18, 1892.

And no one really liked it.

It was too different, dance historians say.

The Nutcracker was first performed in the United States in 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet. Since then Rudolf Nureyev choreographed the Royal Swedish ballet in 1967 and Mikhail Baryshnikov designed the American Ballet Theater's performance in 1976.

Today, it's a holiday staple, providing 50 percent of annual revenue for many dance companies.

"It's our bread and butter, it's our backbone," says Meredith Head, administrative director of the Augusta Ballet.

It's been performed on ice, stage and in the movies. Plots twist and names change, but the music is always the same.

The Augusta Ballet's version opens at the annual Christmas Eve gala of Dr. Silberhaus in Nuremberg, Germany. Guests arrive. They dance and open presents around the town mayor's tree.

The girls get dolls and the boys get horns.

Dr. Silberhaus's daughter, Clara (played by Jessica Cohen and Elizabeth Harrison), gets a wooden nutcracker from her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, an inventor and magician famous for making toys better than Santa's shop turns out.

Her brother Fritz is jealous and damages the nutcracker.

Crying, Clara picks it up, bandages it and puts it to sleep in her new doll bed under the Christmas tree. The guests leave, and she falls asleep on the couch next to the tree.

In the darkness, she's awakened by an army of mice led by the Mouse King.

The mice threaten Clara - they want more than the leftover party crumbs. Hovering in the background, Herr Drosselmeyer (instead of stomping the mice himself) turns the Nutcracker (Val Salnikov, Tom Shoemaker) into a life-size man to fight the Mouse King.

The Nutcracker causes all the toys beneath the tree to grow into an army to protect Clara.

There's a big fight. Then the mouse seizes Clara. Nutcracker surrenders. The Mouse King releases her, but just as he's about to kill the Nutcracker, Clara throws her shoe at him and he dies.

The spell is broken and the Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince. She didn't even have to kiss him.

To reward her bravery, he takes her on a journey into the Land of Snow. They travel through the enchanted forest to the kingdom of sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy (Jackie McKinney, Julia Morgan). Glistening in sugar-frosted lace, crowned with a crystal star, the Sugar Plum Fairy leads Clara to the throne of honor.

They feast on cakes and candies.

But the night has to end. The sweets join in a final waltz, and Clara and the prince fly home in a candy balloon.

"It's magical," Ms. Head says. "There's a beauty and a joy that is being celebrated on the stage that people want to be a part of."

Performances

What: The Nutcracker Suite Ballet

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $30 for the orchestra, mezzanine and box seats, $17 for the first balcony and $8.50 for the second balcony.

Where: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

Phone: 826-4721