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'Nutcracker' brought to life by Backstage Academy of Dance
Cailie Fuentes, Laci Rojas, John Paul Padilla, Serena Anderson and Keaton Garcia practice on Saturday for Backstage Academy of Dance's "Nutcracker" show. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

The holidays are all about tradition, and one of the most beloved is "The Nutcracker Ballet."

For many, it just isn't Christmas without the music of Peter Tchaikovsky and Clara's vivid dreams of her nutcracker turned prince and their adventures with the Snow Queen, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Arabian, Mandarin and Russian dancers played out on the stage. Fortunately for Turlockers, the ballet is performed every year by local company Backstage Academy of Dance.

This is the 17th year of directing "The Nutcracker" for Kristi Garcia, but the production's 28th year.

"I was actually in the very first one, in the snow corps and the Arabian number," said Garcia, Backstage's executive director.

The two-act ballet has a cast of 60-70 dancers that range in age from 4 to 35. The dedicated troupe has spent the past 10 weeks rehearsing 12 to 15 hours each week, memorizing their parts and perfecting the dances.

Playing "Clara" this year is Serena Anderson. This is Anderson's ninth year performing in Backstage's "The Nutcracker," but her first year in the star role. She said the most difficult part of playing Clara is all the lifts — performed with her dance partner "The Prince," played this year by Keaton Garcia.

"After you dance with [your partner] awhile, you build trust," Anderson said.

Keaton Garcia has played at least one part in the annual production for the past 15 years, but this is his first year as the Prince. The hardest part? "Making sure you are being the dream for Clara," he said.

Local children's book author John Paul Padilla answered the call to play Uncle Drosselmeyer, hoping to bring "magic, illusion and the idea that in your dreams anything can happen" to the role.

Cailie Fuentes will welcome Clara and the Prince into dream land as the Snow Queen and Laci Rojas will tend a garden full of dancers as the Rose Queen. Both are veterans of the production, but excited to play new roles.

"It's just so beautiful," Fuentes said of "The Nutcracker." "When everything comes together in the show, it's just so extravagant."

"The Nutcracker" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Turlock Community Theatre, 1574 E. Canal Dr. A complimentary Sugar Plum party will follow each performance.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for children under 12 and students with ID, and can be purchased at Encore Dance Apparel, 167 S. Thor, Backstage Academy of Dance, 957 E. Monte Vista Ave., or by calling 667-8511.