As in the past, local dancers are to participate in the Chicago Festival Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," to be staged at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Ritz Theatre.
Two high school seniors - CeCi Burtis and Allison Arnold - have been running more than 30 local dancers through their routines for the performance.
Burtis said she had danced the part of a mouse in the production as a sixth-grader, so she was asked to coordinate the local practice sessions. She attends Calvert High School.
"I was approached by (Ritz executive director) Michael Strong, who asked me if I'd be interested in doing it since I already kind of knew the choreography. I always liked dance, so I just wanted to do it. I love 'The Nutcracker,' too," Burtis said.
Participants have come from Dance Unlimited and In Motion studios of Tiffin and from surrounding communities. They will share the stage with more than 16 professional dancers.
"It's a really good opportunity for them to work with a professional company, and they've been having fun with it," Burtis said.
Helping to coach the dancers and conduct rehearsals is Allison Arnold, a Hopewell-Loudon student, who said she has been studying ballet since first grade at Dance Unlimited.
At rehearsal, she and Burtis filled in for members of the dance company, allowing a dozen little dancers to drag them across the stage and carry them off.
Although she has seen "The Nutcracker," Arnold has not danced in the ballet, so the routines were new to her. Getting the younger girls to pay attention took a lot of patience.
"It's gotten better. At first, it was really stressful to learn everything," Arnold said. "They've come a long way."
The final practice before dress rehearsal took place Sunday at The Ritz. Some of the girls commented on their experiences.
Alexandra Bighouse, a student at Noble Elementary, is dancing as a mouse, an angel and a German. Now 10, she started classes at age 4. Besides ballet, she has studied lyrical, jazz, tap and contemporary dance as well as acrobatics and flexibility.
The music and story of "The Nutcracker" are familiar to her.
"I went to about three 'Nutcracker' shows before I ever did one," Bighouse said.
Kirsten Egbert, 11, attends Tiffin Middle School. Having taken a variety of dance classes for nine years, she is a member of the competition team at In Motion, with hopes of becoming an actress. She was cast as a soldier in "The Nutcracker." Egbert had seen two other productions of the ballet and a video.
During rehearsals, she learned to pay attention to the musical cues for the timing of the movements.
"It's a good experience. It teaches you commitment, because three other girls have already dropped out. Learning a ballet is different than learning lyrical, because it has words with the songs," Egbert said.
Another In Motion dancer, Carlie Hall, has been in various classes. At 7, she is in her fourth year of instruction. Her roles for "The Nutcracker" include a German, a soldier and a mouse.
For part of her routine, she performs cartwheels and rides on the back of one of the older girls.
Hall said she is excited to be involved in the production.
Niko Feasel, 11, attends Tiffin Middle School. Since age 4, she has studied ballet, jazz and lyrical forms of dance at In Motion. She was wearing a shirt that says "Love 2 Dance." Feasel said her grandmother had taken her to see a production of "The Nutcracker" when she was little.
When she heard about the opportunity to be in the ballet at The Ritz, she decided to try it. In the process, she made some new friends.
"This is a challenge. It's fun, though," Feasel said. "I love it."
Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students. For reservations and information, visit www.ritztheatre.org, stop at 30 S. Washington St., or call (419) 448-8544.