"The Nutcracker" is a traditional part of the holiday season and, in the local area, that tradition is carried on by the Mia Saunders School of Ballet.
This year's performances will be Saturday, Dec. 14, at 2 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3 p.m. in the Centreville High theater. Tickets are $10/adults; $8/senior citizens and $6/students. For reservations, call Francine Fuhrer, 703-830-2558, or Christine Marshall, 703-222-5730.
Sponsored by Centreville High's PTSA, half the proceeds will go toward the school's performing-arts scholarships, and half will go to the Western Fairfax Christian Ministries' (WFCM) emergency-relief fund.
This timeless tale tells, through dance, the story of a girl named Clara who gets a nutcracker for Christmas and dreams that it turns into a prince who takes her to his kingdom. There, in the Land of the Sweets, they dance together and the magical candies also dance for her.
"I love it — It's my favorite role I've done," said Kelly Tracy, 15, a Centreville High sophomore who plays Clara. "You're always on stage, you react to everything and you also get to dance." Dancing since age 3, Tracy finds it relaxing: "I really like putting on shows and performing for everyone, and you're acting, too."
She practices about eight hours a week and says juggling dancing with homework and her duties on the school swim and lacrosse teams "gets you to do better time-management." As Clara, Tracy has to know everything happening in the show.
The toughest part, she said, is that "you're on stage the whole time and you don't get a break to get a drink of water or fix your shoes until intermission." But she especially loves the finale when everyone's dancing together and "no one person is the star — everyone takes their bow and dances."
Some 70 people are participating in "The Nutcracker," including two boys — one, playing Clara's uncle and the other, playing the prince. And four local adults will play couples in the party scene.
Andrea Filak, 17, a Centreville senior, wears a purple tutu while cavorting as the Sugarplum Fairy. "I get to dance with the angels and welcome Clara and the prince to the Land of the Sweets," she said. "After the angels leave, I wave my wand to have all the other characters come onto the stage. Then I have a solo dance and a dance with Clara and the prince.
A Mia Saunders dancer since kindergarten, Filak shared this role last year; this time though, it's hers, alone. "It's fun dancing with all the little kids who play the angels," she said. "And this role is challenging, but fun. The pointe [toe] work is a lot more difficult than in other roles I've played; it takes a lot of concentration and discipline. But I know I've worked up to this point, and I like the audience and moving to the music."
Calling "The Nutcracker" a good Christmas, family and holiday outing, Filak said it will be entertaining for the whole family: "There are battle scenes and ballerinas."
Her sister Maureen, 15, a freshman, plays a merliton — a cupcake in the Land of the Sweets, as well as a snowflake, a flower and a Harlequin doll. She likes the merliton best because "the [dance] steps are really great. And I've never worn a real tutu before — it makes you feel older, like you've progressed and improved a lot."
She says the hardest part is being on stage, "getting all your nerves out and remembering all the steps and to smile." But she likes performing and is pleased the proceeds go to such good causes.
Maureen's proud of her big sister, too. "You have to work hard and have a lot of talent to do that role," she said. "And it's so pretty." She also believes the show is "one of our best ever. We have new people and some new dances, and Ms. Saunders makes it harder every year so it looks even better on stage."
Dressed in a shiny, gold-sequined coat and purple pants, sophomore Molly MacKenzie, 15, portrays a Chinese dancer. She's from the Land of the Sweets and dances for Clara and the prince.
"I've been dancing with Mia Saunders since I was 4, and I've been in several Nutcrackers, but this is the first time in this role," she said. "It's one of the faster dances. It's harder and is a solo — my first one — but if you mess up, no one knows, 'cause there's no one to do anything else different."
Lauren Hartley, 15, dances four parts — snowflake, flower, merliton and a soldier doll. Dressed in a long, white tutu, she really likes the snow scene. "It's cool because there's so much going on, on stage, at the same time," she said. Her merliton outfit is "yellow and froofy, with a lacy top and a skirt that sticks out."
She says dancing takes her mind off school and relaxes her: "It's great being at this studio because there's not the pressure of competition and we all know each other really well."
Emily Weyant, 17, calls dancing "what I do. I've met lots of friends through it. As the Snow Queen, she twirls with the snowflakes. She says the pointe work "takes a lot to keep going," but she enjoys being in "The Nutcracker" and expects a good turnout.
Dressed in a green tutu, Kylin Cummings, 16, is a dewdrop, leading the flowers in a waltz. She's danced since age 4 and says "The Nutcracker" gets her "more in the Christmas spirit." And she says it gives the audience members a breather before they tackle their busy holiday schedules.
Director and choreographer Mia Saunders says, each year, her students "keep growing and amazing me. They're a bunch of talented young girls, and I'm very proud of them all."