For many with only a passing familiarity with ballet, "The Nutcracker" stands as among the most prominent — and in some cases, the only — show novices can name. Each holiday season, the music by composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky permeates shopping malls and local parades, while the characters — a colorful assortment of wooden soldiers, mice and fairies — have become a seasonal staple.
Carroll County Dance Center, a Westminster-based ballet school, will host its annual performance of "The Nutcracker" on Saturday and Sunday at Carroll Community College. The center's show, now in its 12th year, is performed in different locations throughout the state each year.
Director Becky Eckrote said this is only the third or fourth time the dance company's show has been performed in Carroll County.
"We really enjoy being here. Performing in Carroll County draws in more people," Eckrote said. "We've gotten calls from people who wanted tickets, and we ask them how they heard about the show. They've told us, 'We like to support local arts, and it's nice not having to spend that money to go to Baltimore traveling.' "
The show features more than 70 dancers, from age 6 to adult from throughout the area, with most dancers hailing from Carroll County. Eckrote said the cast is made up both of students from the school as well as local dancers who audition for parts in the ballet. Because the production is held each year, she said she is able to see dancers work their way up through the different characters.
"It's a holiday tradition for us," Eckrote said. "The students look forward to what role they can get for next year. It gives them something to look forward to dancewise because we're not a competition school. For them, it's a great opportunity for a public performance."
Emily Metzer, 15, of Frederick, performs as the Snow Queen as well as other roles in the production. She said it's an honor to be such an integral part of the show.
"The first year I did 'The Nutcracker' was in 2006. I played the beginning roles," Metzer said. "I stuck with it because I knew that someday I wanted to get to wear the tutus."
Alena Miller, 17, of Sykesville, said she had a similar experience to Metzer's, beginning at the school and watching the older dancers perform and wishing to be more like them. Miller will perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Saturday performance, while dancing the role of Dew Drop in the Sunday performance.
"It's difficult in a way because you have to learn the different choreography and the music, but I also enjoy it a lot because you're able to be more versatile," Miller said. "I just love how it feels to do. It's a way I can express myself, and it's what I want to do for the rest of my life."
As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Miller will perform in the show alongside a professional guest performer.
"It's a little nerve-racking," Miller said. "It's good for me, though, because these kind of things happens a lot in theater companies. It's good to do that now to prepare."
Metzer agreed that there is a challenge to learning a number of different roles for the same performance.
"The two roles I'm playing are completely different because on one hand, solos are hard because you're the only one on stage, but you also have the ability to alter what you're doing," Metzer said. "When you're dancing in a group of people, you have to be exactly the same as everybody else and do the same things at the same times. They're different, but they're both fun."
Eckrote said "The Nutcracker" is such a holiday tradition that it seems almost unthinkable for the group not to perform it every December.
"It gets people excited about the holiday season," Eckrote said. "When people think about Christmas, they think about 'The Nutcracker.' You hear the music everywhere."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: The Nutcracker
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21
Where: Scott Theater at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster
For more information: Call 410-795-3255 or visit carrollcountydancecenter.com