Jennifer Strakna, 14, of Columbia, left, and Adele Yodzis, 13, of Ellicott City, leap into the air during practice for "The Nutcracker" at Central Maryland Youth Ballet.

Jennifer Strakna, 14, of Columbia, left, and Adele Yodzis, 13, of Ellicott City, leap into the air during practice for "The Nutcracker" at Central Maryland Youth Ballet. (Staff photo by Jon Sham, Patuxent Publishing / November 30, 2012)

Like a visit from Santa, the first sip of eggnog or last bite of grandma's Christmas cookies, "The Nutcracker" is a holiday tradition some families simply can't do without. That's why, in spite of countless revivals every year, folks still flock to the show.

Again this season, productions abound in our area. A few are professional visions with big-time performers. Others are local renditions with visiting guest artists. But don't underestimate the joys of a neighborhood showcase filled with sweet little ones romping about the stage dressed up like mice and steadfast soldiers.

Here are some of the special performances of "The Nutcracker" convenient to local families. Ticket prices average less than $20, some with discounts for military personnel, students, and seniors, so no one should have to go without a helping of Tchaikovsky and toe shoes this holiday.

At a recent rehearsal in the upstairs studio of the Central Maryland Youth Ballet, about 40 students were learning yet another lesson about dance. As they practice for their "Petite Version" of "The Nutcracker," doing the same steps over and over, they discover patience and hard work can lead to those magical moments on stage.


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Jacob Rice and Kimmary Williams have recently moved to the spacious studio on Berger Road in Columbia and combined students from previous locations in Howard County. Rice's "Nutcracker" touches can be seen the fast-moving, high-jumping steps, especially the Russian and Chinese dances, while Williams is warm and fuzzy — and encouraging — with the little ones.

"Ms. Kimmary and Mr. Jacob are fantastic teachers and I've really learned a lot from them," said Adele Yodzis, a teenager who dances on pointe front and center. "This will be my fifth 'Nutcracker,' and every year I get a huge adrenaline rush when the curtain opens."

Arianne McChesney is both a mother and performer in this production. The former New York dancer delights as Mother Ginger with her brood hidden under a huge skirt. Meanwhile, as the young nutcracker prince, her 9-year-old son, Ean, leads the heroine, Elizabeth Kitterman, 9, to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

"Dancing in this ballet is so much fun when you are dancing with your friends," said Harper's Choice Middle School student Sydney Lingham, who sparkles in the Arabian dance. "I love that this is a youth ballet."

Amy Cheng leads the ensemble in everyone's favorite, "Waltz of the Flowers." The Wilde Lake High School sophomore also doubles as the Snow Queen.

"Parents really appreciate that we teach in a nurturing way," Rice said. "Our goal is to not only develop dancers but to encourage their physical, emotional and artistic souls."

The Central Maryland Youth Ballet's production can be seen at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake Village Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16, at 3 p.m. General Admission is $15 in advance, $18 at the door. For more information, visit http://www.centralmarylandyouthballet.com.

• For 16 years, the Howard County Ballet has become a much-anticipated part of our holiday tradition. A classic full-length version danced to live music by the Howard County Ballet Orchestra is also the troupe's "most wonderful … and complete 'Nutcracker' to date," according to director Kathi Ferguson. Accomplished local dancers taking part in the staging include Sugar Plum princess Abby Magalee, currently a dance major at Towson University, and soloist Desiree Koontz-Nachtrieb, who also heads the ballet program at B. Funk in Ellicott City. Franny Esposito, 12, Hannah Evenson, 12, and Vlada Rauner, 12, each will take a turn as Clara.

The Howard County Ballet and its Orchestra will perform three shows of "The Nutcracker" at Centennial High School Saturday, Dec. 15, at 3 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m. For more information, call 410-465-9414 or visit http://www.howardcountyballet.org.

• The Arabesque Dance Company has been putting on terrific dance productions of "The Nutcracker" for more than 30 years. Staged by Ginger Freint (daughter of founding director Marcia Lachman, Columbia's first dance teacher) and directed by Maureen Wheeler, this rendition has been adapted for children. Students and professional dancers will share the stage, including the Nutcracker Prince, performed by Graham Pitts, who got his start at the Columbia studio.

"Little girls and boys who come for their first dance class at age 4 or 5 grow up at this studio," said Lachman, who added that performing in the holiday show "becomes a part of the magic that stays with them all their lives.

The Arabesque Dance Company performs its child-friendly "Nutcracker" at the Jim Rouse Theatre, Wilde Lake High School, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $14. For details, call 410-381-0017.

On the road again

• The Columbia Chamber Ballet, the performing company of Ballet With Cindee Velle, based at the Long Reach Village Center, will take to the road with an abbreviated performance of "The Nutcracker." Geared for all ages and running approximately one hour in length, these shows are open to the public and many are free with general seating. Dance selections include the children's march, waltzing flowers, numerous solo variations and much more.

For a schedule of the nine local shows, call 410-465-7674 or visit http://www.cindeevelleballet.com.

• Even if you're already acquainted with the Snow Queen, her Cavalier and the magical Uncle Drosselmeyer, chances are you're not used to seeing them gliding in on a wintry sheet of ice.

But glide they do when the Columbia Figure Skating Club performs an adaptation of "The Nutcracker" as an ice ballet that enchants even the squirmiest tiny tots. "The Nutcracker on Ice" is, in fact, the only ice skating show of its kind in the Baltimore-Washington area. This production features over 100 performers, little ones and adults, including dozens of high-level skaters.

Shows will take place at the Columbia Ink Rink Saturday, Dec. 15, at 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 4:30 p.m. 6 p.m. Tickets are $12, available online at http://www.columbiafsc.com.

• Husband and wife directors Svetlana Kravtsova and Vadim Pijicov of L'Etoile/The Russian Ballet Academy of Maryland, have added Russian soul to their large-scale, fully-staged production of "The Nutcracker."

"Unfortunately there's no theater in Howard County that has the fly space needed for the authentic sets and designs," said Kravtsova, who oversees 50 plus students in their Ellicott City studio. So they've booked a high school auditorium, about 45 minutes away. But it's sure worth the ride to see outstanding dancers such as guest artists Violeta Angelova and Alexei Agoudin in the sweeping Grand Pas de Deux that closes the ballet. Even more special is the appearance of Howard County's own Maggie Kudirka.

L'Etoile/The Russian Ballet Academy of Maryland performs "The Nutcracker" at Manchester Valley High School, 3300 Maple Grove Road, Manchester, Saturday, Dec. 22, at 2 and 6 p.m. For directions and ticket information, call 443-393-1197 or go to http://www.russballet.org.

• With so many traditional productions around, you might think that setting your company apart from the crowd would be one tough "Nut" to crack. But leave it to Kinetics Dance Theatre to come up with a different take. The company's senior and student troupes presents "The Jingle Bell Rock" at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 1 and 3 p.m. This show features excerpts from "The Nutcracker," modern and jazz works, a guest performance from KDT's professional troupe, and a kick line like the Rockettes. Call 410-480-1686 or visit kineticsdance.org.

Misako Aoki-Oda's dance studio in the Harper's Choice Village will present its Holiday Studio Concert at the studio on Friday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. Live music adds merriment to the holiday dance season. Or catch the Misako Ballet Company in dances from "The Nutcracker, Act II" at the East Columbia Library Saturday, Dec. 1, at 1:30 p.m. Following the free program, children from the audience are invited to learn a dance from "Journey to the Land of Sweets." Visit http://www.misakoballet.com.