The magic of Christmas begins early for all children in “The Nutcracker,” including the eight from Mahomet.
“I like being in ‘The Nutcracker’ because of the feeling backstage,” seven-year veteran Byla Chapman, 11, said. “It’s magical just watching the other dancers in the lighting. It just all goes together. It’s really amazing.”
In its 20th anniversary of “The Nutcracker,” the Champaign Urbana Ballet Academy welcomes 130 cast members for the 2017 production, which will take the stage at Krannert Center for Performing Arts in Urbana on Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 8-10.
The CU Ballet made its debut with a 16-member “NutcrackerSuites” performance at the Champaign Public Library in 1998.
“We feel extraordinarily lucky and thankful for the original vision of this company, a vision that continues to make a lasting impact on the lives of each person involved,” executive director Kay Greene said. “It’s a vision of volunteerism and community and of beautiful ballet in our community.”
But the magic for spectators comes after nearly 1,500 hours of behind-the-scenes volunteer work.
Drawing from local expertise, everything from the costumes, to the sets, to the dancers, to Peter Tchaikovsky’s music performed by the C-U Symphony Orchestra create scenes that leave viewers feeling like the magic of the Christmas season has finally arrived.
Tweaking even the smallest details each year, this year’s “Nutcracker” will be no different.
And for the Mahomet residents who are dancing in ‘The Nutcracker” this year, the feeling of magic is a recipe of excitement and nervousness, just like the children who have performed before them.
“I feel excited but also nervous,” 8-year-old Allison Rebollo said of her first year in the production. “I’m excited because I’m going to be in ‘The Nutcracker,” but I’m nervous because there are all of those people watching.”
Although nervous, veteran performers know they can combat that feeling with the lasting benefits of being part of “The Nutcracker.”
“I like ballet because it is really graceful and you get stronger,” 9-year-old Alice Schleicher said.
After five years of performing in “The Nutcracker,” 12-year-old Kiera McCoy is realizing how her strength and hard work are paying off year after year.
“I got into ballet because I saw all the older dancers doing 30 pirouettes in a row, and I told my mom, ‘I want to do that one day,'” McCoy said.
Now, in her first year on pointe, Kiera will play parts in the calvary, snowflakes, flowers and Russian dancers (candy canes).
“This is a big year for Kiera because she moved up a level, so she’s dancing a lot of the larger roles,” Greene said.
Emily Hall, whose 11-year-old sister, Elizabeth, is also performing in “The Nutcracker,” said she learns a lot from working with older dancers who “show us how to do (moves) we don’t know how to do.”
Emily Hall, 8, is playing a soldier this year, but her favorite role was playing a mouse because she was able to run behind the curtain just like “The Nutcracker” does.
But Rosy Odum, 11, said she is ready for the shining lights in her third year in the production.
“There is a rush,” Odum said.
Greene said the end of “The Nutcracker” is often like the day after Christmas for the little ones. The curtain closes on their final performance and the magic of preparation, hard work and practice subside.
“It’s like the day after Christmas when they say, ‘Darn it, it’s over.’ They aren’t ready for it. They weren’t ready for it to be over.”
Mahomet’s Beau Chapman, 13, also is in the show.
Greene said the Monday after the final performance, the CU Ballet brings the cast back together for one last hurrah before they begin to prepare for their spring performance, which also is full of magic.