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'The Nutcracker' at Centreville High

"The Nutcracker" is a holiday tradition, and the Mia Saunders School of Ballet will present its version Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 13-14, at 2 and 3 p.m., respectively, in Centreville High's theater.

It's sponsored by the school's PTSA, and proceeds will benefit the school's Scholarship Fund and Western Fairfax Christian Ministries' (WFCM) Emergency Relief Fund. Tickets are $10, adults; $8, senior citizens and $6, students. For reservations, call Francine Fuhrer at 703-830-2558 or Christine Marshall at 703-222-2988.

"They're doing exceptionally well," said director/choreographer Mia Saunders of her students. "They get excited about practice, and I'm having a lot of fun with them. And even though we've done it before, it's new people in new roles, plus some old, familiar faces."

Playing the lead, Clara, is Liberty Middle School eighth-grader Lauren Henson, 14. She's been dancing since fourth grade and says it's "a way to have fun, after a long day at school." And she's thrilled to have the main role in this timeless tale of a girl and a nutcracker who becomes a prince.

"It's fun to see everyone's dances and to do my part," she said. "It's a challenge, but also fun because I know it's worth it being able to experience the responsibility of it." She said the hardest part is remembering all the steps, but she's delighted that "I get to do things I don't get to do every day and, in this role, everybody watches you and you get your own, almost moment of glory."

HENSON'S FAVORITE number in the show is the dance between Clara and her grandfather because "I get lifted — it's fun." She says the audience will enjoy the show because Saunders added some new roles, this year — such as cooks who make all the goodies in the Land of the Sweets — and created different steps for the candy canes, "making it interesting and more fun to watch."

Chelsea Legendre, 12, a Union Mill Elementary sixth-grader, plays the prince. She's danced seven years with Sanders. "Since I've done it for so long, I really enjoy it, and I love doing 'The Nutcracker' every year, too," she said. To play the male prince, she said, "I have to French braid my hair and tuck it under and act strong like a boy."

Her favorite part is when she and Henson dance together before the finale, but she also likes the Arabian dance number: "I think it's really cool because the dancers are really flexible and their outfits are pretty — blue pants and blue-lace tops."

Legendre said the toughest thing for her is sitting up straight and tall in her blue "soldier pants" and red-velvet jacket. But it's lots of fun, she said, because "I'm kind of the main part — and I've always wanted to be." As for the audience, she said those attending "will like how we show feelings and make 'The Nutcracker' come alive."

A dancer for 13 years, Centreville High senior Kylin Cummings, 17, is the Sugarplum Fairy. "I'm the queen of the Land of the Sweets, so I introduce the sweets, have a solo and dance with Clara and the prince," she said. Her favorite number is "Snow," performed by all the high-school cast members.

"We're in long, white tutus, and the background looks wintry — white with hints of blue," she said. "We dance around the Snow Queen and complement her." She said the most difficult part was learning the sugarplum dance because it requires lots of endurance.

The best part, though, said Legendre, is getting to dance with girls in Mia Saunders' various ballet classes. As for "The Nutcracker," she said, "It's really Christmasy and gets you in the holiday mood."

CENTREVILLE HIGH junior Molly MacKenzie, 16, dances the Snow Queen role, is a Spanish dancer and is in the "Flowers" number. As a Spanish dancer, she wears a red tutu with black-lace embroidery, netting and fringe. As the Snow Queen, she leads Clara into the Land of the Sweets and is head of the snowflakes. In "Flowers," girls dressed as pink and blue flowers follow the Dew Drop character.

MacKenzie likes playing the Snow Queen best because she's always liked that role and wanted to play it. "I've always liked her dance, so I'm happy I'm the Snow Queen, this year," she said. Dancing with Saunders since age 5, she said dancing "keeps you in shape and is graceful and fun."

She described "The Nutcracker" as a nice story and a pretty ballet. "It's around the holidays, and it makes everyone in the audience feel happy."

Kelly Tracy, 16, a Centreville High junior, has been dancing since she was 3. "I like the movement and grace, and the way you can express yourself," she explained. "And I made a lot of really good friends in dance that help me and support me."

She plays the Snow Queen in the Dec. 14 show and is a Spanish dancer and a boy soldier-doll, both days. She said the Snow Queen role is "very technical and fast, especially on pointe shoes." But she said it's a "great opportunity to show both the quick and the slow, graceful steps."

ALTHOUGH "THE NUTCRACKER" is familiar to audiences, Tracy believes that, "With every year, the dancers get better and the dances, more complicated. And the technology of the lighting and scenery becomes more advanced so it's pleasing to the eye and more exciting to watch."

Playing the Dew Drop — in a green tutu trimmed with gold sequins and pink and gold rosebuds — is Centreville High sophomore Denise Linn, 15. Dancing since she was 4, Linn said she and the other girls are all good friends and "this production is fun to be a part of and is something everyone looks forward to."

She leads the "Waltz of the Flowers" and is also in the "Snow" number. Said Linn: "It's one of the biggest roles I've played so far, so it makes me feel more like an adult and like I'm 'initiated' now."

She, too, said the pointe work is difficult, but that's OK. She said Saunders challenges her, but she's glad because "I'm doing things I never thought I could." And she's certain the audience will love the show: "Everyone's put a lot of heart into it, and I hope that comes through."

The ballet students range in age from 5-25. About 70 people are in the cast, including some local residents in the adult roles and some Saunders grads, now college students — Cara Saunders (Mia's daughter), Anne Crumb, Michael Peterson and Andrea Filak.

Centreville High theater teacher Mike Hudson and his students are handling the technical duties. "'The Nutcracker' is so child-friendly," said Mia Saunders. "It's a nice tradition, a good break from holiday shopping and for worthy causes."