Every year during the holidays, a mystical land of peppermint, chocolate and sugarplums is presented to the children of the world. Of course, this isn't just an extreme collection of stocking stuffers, but the popular characters of "The Nutcracker."
Central West Ballet is one local company that presents its version of this traditional Christmas ballet. Central West, like other ballet studios in the area, includes teenagers in its production. They rehearse on a rigorous schedule for weeks before opening night. This year, for the first time, they'll perform in the Gallo Center for the Arts.
"It's great to be part of such a big tradition," said Ariane Mota, a sophomore at Enochs High School. "It's great to feel like you're bringing joy to so many people."
Ariane, like most of the company members, must learn multiple roles for both solos and ensemble pieces for the company's six performances at the arts center, and therefore she has many rehearsals in preparation.
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"It's a really unique company in the sense that we're all really young and pretty advanced," she said. "It has a lot of good choreography and I think we do really well in it."
Said Brooke Sonke, a sophomore at Modesto High School, "I think it's the hard work that everyone puts into it and the dedication that everyone has that makes 'The Nutcracker' special. It's different than all the other performances (during the year). It's Christmas, and it's joyful, and it's all familiar music."
Nicole Firpo, who alternates as the Sugar Plum Fairy, agreed.
"We have a lot of special dancers who care about the performance they're giving," said Firpo, a sophomore at California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock. "They know how to put on a show, and will perform it to the best of their ability."
The rehearsal schedule is intense. For Brooke and Ariane, there are rehearsals every weeknight until 9 and for most of the afternoon on Saturdays. Nicole has an even more demanding rehearsal schedule, because having more roles and larger roles require more time to perfect.
"I'm one of those people who likes to be busy," she said. "I like to be occupied with something that's important to me, and dance is very important to me at this point."
Said Nicole, who has played the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy for four years: "There's always something to strive for and something to make even better than the year before. It's a lot of hard work, but I can't imagine doing anything else. I'd much rather be at a dance studio than at a party."
All three dancers note how popular a tradition "The Nutcracker" is for families to attend and enjoy during the holiday season, presenting a magical world of beauty and wonder.
"It's always fun to perform it for a child who has never seen it before," said Nicole.
Said Ariane, "People view 'The Nutcracker' as a family tradition and as something people go to see, so I think it's good be part of that tradition."
Victoria Pardini is a sophomore at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program. To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com.