In this undated publicity photo, two dancers perform as the Dove of Peace during the Msocow Ballet’s "The Great Russian Nutcracker."
In this undated publicity photo, two dancers perform as the Dove of Peace during the Msocow Ballet's "The Great Russian Nutcracker." (Courtesy of the Moscow Ballet)

FARMINGTON — From sugar plums to battles between a prince and an evil king, dancers are preparing for one of the most well-known and recognizable Christmas ballets.

Dancers of all levels will perform the traditional Christmas ballet "The Nutcracker" in Farmington and Durango, Colo., later this month.

The famous ballet is based on the book "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The ballet tells the story of Clara, whose godfather gives her a toy nutcracker during a holiday party. When Clara goes to sleep, she dreams the toy comes to life and takes her to a magical world where she meets a cast of unusual characters.

Forty young dancers from studios in Durango, Cortez and Pagosa Springs, Colo., will dance alongside members of the State Street Ballet from Santa Barbara, Calif., in performances Friday through Sunday.

The dancers, who are all younger than 18, are directed by Judy Austin, a dance instructor at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. For many of the dancers, this marks their first time dancing with a professional company. Many of them have also never had the opportunity to watch professional ballet.

"We're a little bit isolated in terms of being able to see professional dance," Austin said.

Austin said the annual Nutcracker performance in Durango started in the mid-1990s with the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet. State Street Ballet is the third company that has participated.

"On a professional level, I like their commitment to classical ballet, but looking at bringing it to young audiences," Austin said.

The ballet has a lot of strong dancers, Austin added. She also enjoys the way the approximately 15 members of the company interact with the students.

"I like that they're so accessible to the kids," Austin said.

The company members become mentors and idols to the children, Austin said.

The company visits twice a year -- once in the summer to teach master classes and once for "The Nutcracker." Company members rehearse with the children and teach several classes.

In Farmington, dance students are preparing for their production of "The Nutcracker." Mann Dance Academy will perform its fifth annual production of the show on Dec. 19 and 20.

Paige Thompson and Haleigh Miller will dance the role of Clara, the principal female. Judy Mann, the director of Mann Dance Acadmeny, said the two advanced students have been studying for the role since August and have rehearsed almost every night.

"They have the ability to be animated with their dance," Mann said.

The Rat King, played by Vance Malm, watches "The Nutcracker" rehearsal on Dec. 5, 2012, backstage at the Henderson Fine Arts Theater in
The Rat King, played by Vance Malm, watches "The Nutcracker" rehearsal on Dec. 5, 2012, backstage at the Henderson Fine Arts Theater in Farmington. (The Daily Times file photo)

She said this is especially important during one of Clara's solos in which she reenacts the battle between the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King.

While Mann said she enjoys seeing the advanced students dance, she also likes watching the younger students.

"I also just really enjoy the innocence of the little, bittiest dancers doing the angels," she said.

In another one of the dances for the young students, bubbles will float around in the air during the dance.

"The camaraderie of the whole thing is uplifting," Mann said.

Mann said the academy has stuck with the traditional story but changed a few elements to show the strength of its dancers, especially of the principals.

The academy chose to put on "The Nutcracker" partly because most major ballet companies present the show annually.

One of those ballet companies, Moscow Ballet, will be in Farmington on Tuesday.

New this year to the Moscow Ballet's "The Great Russian Nutcracker" is the Dove of Peace, which is formed by two dancers, each making up one wing. The dove has a 20-foot wing span and opens Act II flying around the stage.

Unlike other Nutcracker performances, "The Great Russian Nutcracker" features Russian folk characters, such as Ded Moroz, which translates to Father Christmas, and Snegurochka, which means Snow Maiden.

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka escort the heroine -- Masha -- to the Land of Peace and Harmony in Act II.

Another unique aspect of the Moscow Ballet's Nutcracker is that Masha and the Nutcracker Prince are honored by emissaries from all around the world.

The lead dancers in the company are Karyna Shatkovskaya and Vladimir Tkachenko. Natalia Miroshnyk will be dancing the Spanish variation solo in the production.

Miroshnyk started dancing professionally at age 10 in her home country of Ukraine. From then until she was 18, she attended Kiev Academic Choreographic School, a school focused on dance. After graduation, she joined the Odessa State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater of the Ukraine in Odessa.

"I dreamed of being a ballerina when I was a little girl," Miroshnyk said.

The Spanish variation occurs during Act II of the ballet, in which the main character is taken to the Land of Peace and Harmony.

Miroshnyk said the Moscow Ballet travels for two months and performs 50 different shows for "The Great Russian Nutcracker." They will be returning to Russia after the New Year.

"It's more than a job," Miroshnyk said. "It's about life."

IF YOU GO

What: Moscow Ballet’s “The Great Russian Nutcracker”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. in Farmington

Tickets: Start at $30

More info: 505-599-1148



What: “The Nutcracker” performed by State Street Ballet

When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday

Where: The Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive in Durango, Colo.

Tickets: Start at $29

More info: 970-247-7657 or www.durangoconcerts.com



What: Mann Dance Academy’s “The Nutcracker”

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20

Where: San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Theater, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

Tickets: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors

More info: 9505-566-3845

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.