A festive family Christmas Eve drifts into an epic battle with the Mouse King. A young heroine and her prince pass through the Land of Snow on their way to see the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Land of Sweets. All set to the timeless and enchanting music of Tchaikovsky.

It’s little wonder why the Nutcracker Ballet has been a popular holiday tradition around the world for more than a century.

This year, we’re lucky to have the classic tale performed locally at the Wood River Performing Arts Center on the Community Campus, this Sunday night, December 8th at 6:30pm. The Eugene Ballet Company will lead the performance with the help of over 50 local dancers.

“It is a special holiday tradition for many families,” said Hilarie Neely, the director of Footlight Dance Centre, who trains the local dancers for their roles.

“The Nutcracker is a traditional ballet that has been a vehicle to introduce young children and families to dance for decades,” said Hilarie, who founded Footlight Dance Centre in 1984. “It’s a familiar story and the music is so beautiful. It’s something the whole community, people of all ages, can enjoy.”

While places as small as Twin Falls and as large as New York City offer performances of the Nutcracker every year, we usually have to travel to see it. Thanks, however, to the efforts of Footlight Dance and the support of the College of Southern Idaho, we’re lucky to have the Nutcracker come to us again this year.

“It’s a wonderfully unique experience,” Hilarie said, explaining how a touring company like Eugene Ballet brings the Nutcracker to the Wood River Valley, something that has happened intermittently since 1993.

The traveling dance company first comes to town three months before the performance. Local children then try out and are selected for parts and as understudies. The group of dancers then rehearses with a local teacher until the show arrives. Volunteers also help with a variety of tasks, including helping with the set during the day of the performance.

Hilarie, who’s career as a professional dancers first brought her to Sun Valley to perform and teach in 1979, instructs the young local dancers on their parts. For months, they practice for roles from Baby Mice to Waltz of the Flowers until it finally all comes together on performance day: dancers, costumes, set and an excited audience of all ages.

“That’s what makes it so special,” Hilarie said of the local ties to this classic tale. “It’s a wonderful artist form. It brings people to dance and we get to bring it to town.”

For tickets to the Nutcracker Ballet, go to offcampus.csi.edu/blaine/Nutcracker/. For questions about Footlight Dance Centre, call, 208-578-5462 or got to FootlightDanceCentre.com.

By Mike McKenna

This story originally appeared in the Weekly Sun.

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