Three companies to perform 'Nutcracker'

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It's a story of Christmas magic, courage and childhood dreams. It has been danced on stages from Russia to the U.S. and has left little girls all over dreaming of becoming ballerinas ... or falling in love with a nutcracker who turns into a handsome prince.

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Farron Aaronson (from left), Rachel Marionneaux, Rebecca Beiard, Madeline Hopkins and Catherine Kenyon rehearse for The Nutcracker at the Columbia County Ballet School.  Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Farron Aaronson (from left), Rachel Marionneaux, Rebecca Beiard, Madeline Hopkins and Catherine Kenyon rehearse for The Nutcracker at the Columbia County Ballet School.

Three local dance companies will perform the traditional dance of The Nutcracker Ballet.

The Nutcracker was first performed in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is based on a story by German author E.T.A Hoffman. Though the story has evolved over the years, the basic premise tells the story of Clara, who receives the gift of a Nutcracker at a family Christmas party. She falls asleep with the Nutcracker in her arms and dreams of battle between a field of soldiers, her Nutcracker and a mouse king.

After the fight, Clara's Nutcracker turns into a prince and takes her into the Land of Sweets. Soon, Clara awakens, only to find herself still laying beneath a Christmas tree with her Nutcracker in her arms.

Each local dance company said they have plans to make their performances unique:

COLUMBIA COUNTY BALLET

Saturday, 3 p.m.

Imperial Theatre

There's something in the Tchaikovsky music, Ron Jones says.

It narrates Clara's excitement when she receives a wooden Nutcracker on Christmas, the terror she feels as the Nutcracker battles a mouse king and the wonder of her trip through the Land of the Sweets.

The Columbia County Ballet artistic director said it's why he has worked to keep the story alive all his life.

"I'm 59. My first Nutcracker was when I was 17. I love it. It's so magical. It goes with the holiday season, because there's something magical about Christmas."

Jones will lead his company in their 13th season of The Nutcracker on Saturday.

He said the early date is a good way to begin the holiday season, which seems to have worked over the years.

In 2009 the company had to add a show to their roster after all three in 2008 sold out.

Jones said this year the audience can expect improved costumes and a stunning performance from his dancers.

Although he does not change much about the dance from year to year, Jones said each Nutcracker performance is unique.

"It inevitably evolves," he said. "When you're in there and you're working with the energy of the dancers every year becomes new."

It's in the chemistry between Clara and her prince and in the flow of the waltz of the flowers.

There will be 50 company dancers and about 10 guest performers on stage for their show. He said he has been waiting to share his dancers' talents with the community all year. And of course, to tell the story of Clara and her prince.

"It's very romantic, and it just hits that string or that chord that's in all of us that you just want to find that special person."

DANCE AUGUSTA

Nov. 26, 7 p.m.

Nov. 27, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Nov. 28, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Imperial Theatre

There's a reason why Dance Augusta will perform their 39th season of the Nutcracker this month.

"It has a lot to do with children and families, for an evening, can come together and enjoy something that is hopeful and is good and is enduring," said Dance Augusta artistic director Zanne Colton.

Colton said 12 of her Dance Augusta performers and more than 60 professional dancers from across the country will tell the story of the Nutcracker.

Their choreography reflects the traditional style of George Balanchine's 1953 version of the dance.

Her dancers have been rehearsing for almost eight weeks, some seven days a week to tell Balanchine's story.

It's one that can affect the lives of anyone who watches it, Colton said.

That is why Dance Augusta is also holding three free school shows at the Imperial Theatre for Aiken and Edgefield County students this month.

The company pays for the travel and tickets for more than 2,000 students from underprivileged Title I schools to see the holiday classic.

"If you think about it, if you bring a child who has not had this kind of experience into the theater and they see this, there's a whole world that could be open to them," she said. "Why not do it? You've got to inspire a child to learn and want to go forward and do something in this life."

She said the dance's main character, Clara, tells a story of courage and bravery as she helps her prince fight the mouse king.

"Also the Nutcracker is very ugly and she loves him anyway, and because of that he turns into a handsome prince and takes her to paradise," Colton said. "It's inspiring."

AIKEN CIVIC BALLET

Dec. 18, 7 pm.

Dec. 19, 2 p.m.

USC Aiken Etherredge Center

There was something missing in Aiken for decades, and Aiken Civic Ballet co-president Lisa Burckhalter said her company wanted to fill the void.

Although the company has been training dancers since 1974, there had never been a consistent Nutcracker performance in the area.

In 2009 they moved to change that. The Aiken Civic Ballet pulled their dancers and professionals from outside companies to put on the first Nutcracker performance, and both shows sold out.

"We didn't have a Nutcracker in Aiken, and we just felt the community needed something that would be artistic and enjoyable for the season," Burckhalter said. "Before people were traveling to see it, but we have a lot of talent here."

For their second annual Nutcracker in December, Burckhalter said they have added more dancers and better set designs to make a memorable show.

Along with more than 20 of their own dancers, Aiken Civic Ballet held auditions in May for outside performers who wanted to be a part of The Nutcracker .

They recruited more than 100 dancers and have been rehearsing since Sept. 11 for their showing.

Burckhalter said some of the dancers have concentrations in modern dance, jazz and clogging, which adds to the diversity of the characters.

Snowflakes are refined and delicate while soldiers are acrobatic and intense.

She said the company is working to improve each year's performances to make their Nutcracker a holiday staple in the community.

"(The Nutcracker ) is universal, and it's just a treat for adults and children as well," she said. "It becomes a part of some people's holiday tradition."

Meet the characters

WHAT: Dance Augusta and the Morris Museum will hold a meet and greet with the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Prince and Clara where guests can feast on cookies, create tiaras and crowns and pose for photos with the characters.

WHEN: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 21

WHERE: Morris Museum first-floor auditorium

COST: $5 per child, $5 adult nonmembers, free for adult members


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