Three performances of "The Nutcracker," the beloved Christmas season classic, will be presented this weekend at the Lake Zurich Performing Arts Center inside Lake Zurich High School, 300 Church St.
"This is our eleventh Nutcracker," said Jennifer Byers, ballet mistress with the Illinois Youth Dance Theatre, a nonprofit dance company affiliated with the for-profit, Deer Park-based Center for Ballroom and Dance.
A cast of 70, many from Lake Zurich and the surrounding area, will dance the story of Clara and her holiday odyssey, which begins when the little girl awakens to search out a broken toy nutcracker, left under the Christmas tree.
When the gift comes to life, a fantastic story unfolds, wherein Clara and the audience meet mice warriors, gingerbread soldiers, sugar plum fairies, dancing confectionary treats and a prince.
Byers said the cast ranges in age from 3 to adult, reflecting the dance company's wide range of ages.
"We serve students from 18 months all the way through to adults. It's a great way to give an introduction to music and dance. It's a great way to bring the arts out to the community, to make the arts accessible," she said.
A professional dancer herself, Byers recently returned to the area where she's readying for her first "Nutcracker" with Illinois Youth Dance Theatre.
"I was working as a professional dancer with a company in New York City," she said. "I just got finished working with a company down in Houston, Texas."
Teaching children to dance is rewarding, she said. Dancers at IYDC are challenged both technically and artistically.
"The choreography we teach our kids is pretty sophisticated. We expect a high level of artistry from them as well," she said.
This version of the show, with its instantly recognizable score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, features a few departures from traditional staging.
"We do a little bit of a spin on the battle scene," she said, referring to the clash between the gingerbread soldiers and the mice.
"Our soldiers are tap dancing," she said, while ballet dancers surround them.
Byers said "The Nutcracker" was mostly choreographed by IYDC's artistic director, Alyce Keaggy Brinkmann.
Keaggy Brinkmann, a member of the Milwaukee School of Ballet faculty, danced professionally with the Milwaukee Ballet Company for 13 years after she trained with both the Ruth Page Foundation of Chicago and the Lyric Opera Ballet of Chicago.
"Alyce is the founder of Illinois Youth Dance Theatre," Byers said.
The production also will showcase the talents of guest artist Ariel Cisneros, formerly of the Joffrey Ballet, she said.
Byers said the show runs about 90 minutes. Between acts, there is a brief intermission. The show is appropriate for all ages, she said.
"It's absolutely a family friendly show," she said.
Performances will be presented at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 18 and at 2 p.m., Sunday,Dec. 19. Tickets are priced at $10 to $25 and are available at the door and at www.ballroomanddance.com.
For more information, call 847-438-5901.