Pamela Hayes put it best.
" 'The Nutcracker' should be a feast," Hayes said. "Children come to the ballet with visions and dreams. We're helping those fantasies come true."
Hayes is the artistic director of the eponymous Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet, a pre-professional school and performing corps that is one of several companies producing a version of the beloved ballet set to Tchaikovsky's soaring score in the Sacramento area this month.
"It's my 50th anniversary (involved with) 'The Nutcracker,' " said Robert Friedman, who's bringing the Moscow Classical Ballet's production to Three Stages in Folsom. "I still love it. I think it's a great introduction to ballet it's a spectacle. Watching children in the lobby is one of my greatest pleasures."
Ron Cunningham, co-artistic director of the Sacramento Ballet, also knows the joys of watching and working with the younger generation.
" 'The Nutcracker' is all about families and community," Cunningham said. "We have 500 children in our cast the most on the planet and it's wonderful to see the confidence they build. Our production is all about children sitting in the audience being able to look at the stage and say, 'Hey, those kids are just like me.' "
Cunningham and his wife and co-artistic director, Carinne Binda, are especially focused on making the production accessible to all.
"We have huge diversity the kids come from all over, and we also cast children with disabilities," Cunningham said. "If we're doing a production that's supposed to represent the community, we're going to include everyone."
Hayes also is keen on inclusion.
"We want to keep it affordable so all families can come," she said. "We bring 'The Nutcracker' to families who couldn't afford it otherwise."
While the three productions all contain the hallmarks that make it a holiday classic Clara and her beloved Nutcracker Prince who comes to life, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Mouse King they're very different in scope and style. The Moscow Classical Ballet production is touted for its traditional rendering of the ballet that premiered in December 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"The Moscow Classical Ballet company was formed to give young dancers a chance to dance the classics," Friedman explained. "It takes years to matriculate in a 400-person corps, so this company was created as an offshoot of the Bolshoi Ballet to give dancers experience in major roles."
Hayes prides herself on the roster of returning dancers in her "Nutcracker."
"We have former students who are away at college or off dancing professionally who come back for this production," she said. "In fact, one of our former students, Allyn Ginns, just passed the bar exam to become an attorney, but she's coming back to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy. She's danced in every performance we've done of ('The Nutcracker'), and we're in our 12th year. It's just a delight that people want to come back."
You might recognize a familiar face in the Sacramento Ballet's production as well. Cunningham has danced the part of Herr Drosselmeyer every year for the past 25 years. Though he's dancing only half of the performances this time around, it's always a highlight of his season.
"It's very aerobic," Cunningham said. "There's a lot of lifting of children, but it keeps you young. I love working with so many kids and oddly enough, I still remember most of them."
His sharp memory serves him well, both as choreographer and director.
" 'The Nutcracker' is all about portraying the Christmas we wish we had," he said. "It's very idealized, very Currier and Ives."
All three productions boast beautiful costumes and sets, which contribute to the whimsy of the magical, wintry world. Needless to say, the ballet certainly makes an impression.
"The first performance I ever worked was 'The Nutcracker,' " Friedman recalled. "I was selling programs for a production of it in San Francisco. I was entranced."
Though Friedman's career has taken him around the world in dance, theater and, ultimately, producing he never lost sight of his love for the Christmastime classic.
"I produced my first 'Nutcracker' in 1975 at the Oakland Ballet," he said proudly, "and now I've been touring productions of it for 37 years."
Cunningham also has a special soft spot for the story.
"Carinne and I dearly and sincerely love 'The Nutcracker,' and I think that shows," he said. "There is an enormous amount of detail many who have watched (the ballet) for 10 years or more think we are constantly changing the choreography. The real answer is there is so much detail that each viewing can become a different experience."
DANCE THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS
"The Nutcracker," Placer Theatre Ballet; six matinee or evening performances from today through Dec. 9; Placer High School Theater, 275 Orange St., Auburn. $13-$20; (916) 630-7820; www.placertheatre ballet.org.
"Cash: The Life and Music of an American Legend," E:motion Dance Ensemble; 8 p.m. Thursday; Three Stages, 10 College Parkway, Folsom. $20-$22; (916) 608-6888, www.threestages.net.
"An Evening of Dance," Mosaic Dance Co., 6 p.m. Thursday; Three Stages, 10 College Parkway, Folsom. $8-$12; (916) 608-6888, www.threestages.net.
"The Nutcracker," Sacramento Ballet; 14 evening or matinee performances from Friday through Dec. 23; Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento. $15-$72. Information: (916) 552-5800; www.sacballet.org.
"The Nutcracker," Capitol Ballet Co.; 2 p.m. Saturday at Sheldon High School, 8333 Kingsbridge Drive, Sacramento; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at Yuba College Theater, 2088 N. Beale Road, Linda; $12-$18; (916) 484-1188; www.capitolballet.com.
"The Nutcracker," Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet; four evening or matinee performances from Dec. 21 through 23; Three Stages, 10 College Parkway, Folsom. $15-$26; (916) 608-6888, www.threestages.net.
"The Nutcracker," Moscow Classical Ballet; five evening or matinee performances from Dec. 27 through Dec. 30; Three Stages, 10 College Parkway, Folsom. $29-$65; (916) 608-6888, www.threestages.net.