Ask Marina Smith and Kelly Rose Berk, both 7, what the best part about performing in the Washington Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," is and they have the same answer — dancing in the company of professional ballerinas.
"I like it because we get to mostly dance with the professionals a lot, and because the teachers there are professional ballet dancers and I like to do [the show] with them," said Marina, who plays the smallest party girl in this year's production.
Marina and Kelly Rose both live in Great Falls and are in their second year as students at the Washington Ballet School, which is affiliated with the Washington Ballet company.
"They do have to audition to get into the school, and there are about 400 students, ages 6-18," said Maureen Berk, mother of Kelly Rose. "It's considered a professional school."
As students, the children are given the opportunity to audition for the Washington Ballet's yearly production of "The Nutcracker," and both Marina and Kelly Rose have made it into the show two years in a row. Kelly Rose, who was a mushroom in last year's show, will take on the role of a mouse this year.
"I like the mouse much better because it's fun," said Kelly Rose. "The good thing is, my costume is comfortable, and I don't mind wearing it for an hour or so, even though it's hot."
The Washington Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" is slightly different than the traditional version. Choreographed by the Washington Ballet's Artistic Director Septime Webre, it follows a Washingtonian theme.
"Webre's vision was to create a production of 'The Nutcracker' that will become a distinct part of the Washington D.C. community," said Angela Mers, marketing and communications manager for the Washington Ballet.
This is the second year that the Washington Ballet has presented this version of the show.
"It's set in an 1800's Georgetown mansion, and they have the tidal basin in the winter and the cherry blossoms in the spring," said Berk. "There is a Betsy Ross in it, the Nutcracker itself is a George Washington look-alike, and one of the dances they do is the Virginia Reel."
Berk has been particularly impressed by the fact that the girls have been able to receive personal instruction from such a well-known choreographer and director.
"He works with every kid," said Berk. "It's really amazing how much attention they get even though they have small roles."
"Working with many generations of dancers on the creation of this new tradition has been a joyful experience," said Webre.
Mary Smith, mother of Marina, says she appreciates Webre's "effort to put children in the show while maintaining the professionalism of the Washington Ballet."
"The bottom line is that they are privileged to have these opportunities," said Smith. "Not every child gets to do this and they have so much interaction with professionals. I'm very happy that she gets to have such a wonderful opportunity."
THE WASHINGTON BALLET'S production of "The Nutcracker" will run from Dec. 1-24 at the historic Warner Theatre. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased by calling 202-397-SEAT, or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.