The North Carolina State Ballet will present the Nutcracker at the Crown Center Theatre Dec. 6, 12 and 13 at 3 p.m. The gala performance is presented in two acts and three scenes and has a cast of 60 dancers and actors.

The Nutcracker is headlined by international guest artists, Barbara Toth and Wei Ni, who dance the "Sugar Plum Fairy" and the "Cavalier." Anne Talkington alternates "Clara" grown up with Dara Buffaloe. April Glasper performs as the "Flower Queen" and Daniel Moore is "Drosslemeyer".

The cast of sixty plus Dancers and Actors is directed by, Charlotte Blume. Both Toth and Ni are international ballet dancers who have performed with companies in China, the U.S., Canada and Europe. Set in the 19th century, it is the story of "Clara", who receives an enchanted "Nutcracker" from her Godfather(Drosselmeyer) and then embarks on a Magical Journey. She travels from the terror of the "Mouse King" to a Romantic Odyssey with the "Nutcracker Prince" to the "Land of Snow" and to the "Land of Sweets".

Ni is a native of Dalian, China. He began his study of ballet at Shangyang Ballet Academy of China and has danced with several companies in China before coming to the United States where he danced for Tulsa Ballet Theater, Cincinnati Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater before coming to North Carolina. From Hungary Toth came to North Carolina in 2007 from Hungary where she studied dance at the Hungarian Dance Academy in Budapest. She also studied for a year at the School of American Ballet in New York City.

For Blume, the annual production is a way of giving the community the gift of dance, and of showcasing the talented ballet students in the community.

"We have a large group of talented dancers who are performing," said Blume. "Some of them are from areas outside of Fayetteville; however, most are from Fayetteville. We rehearse seven-days a week - so it's a major undertaking."

The company started rehearsals the third week of September, with various portions of the ballet being rehearsed every day. "We worked on something every day, and then we put it all together," said Blume.
Blume said that she sets the bar high for her dancers.

"I always expect a high-level performance and I work toward that end," she said. "I always try to bring the dancers up to the level of the choreography. We definitely don't water the choreography down. If we did that, it would not be an exciting performance or at the level that the community has come to expect from this company."

While the public performances are highly anticipated, it is the school performances that give the dancers the biggest thrill, and are part of what drives Blume on.

"We have three school performances each year," she said. "For many of these students, this will be the first time they are exposed to the ballet."
All of Cumberland County's fourth grade students attend the performance.

"When students start young going to ballet, concerts or theatre - they develop a taste for it - they find out what a wonderful experience it is and how it transports them, and as adults they pursue the interest," she explained.

The Nutcracker performance has been ongoing for more than 30 years, with students attending for the past 20 years.

"The children are very, very excited," said Blume. "The first school performance they are so excited that the dancers can barely contain themselves - then they want that same sense of excitement from the adult audience as well, but the adult audiences tend to be more restrained. The children are so excited by first act that they get tired of clapping, but they never get tired of the show."

Tickets for the public performances are $14 for general seating. There is a military discount available at the door. For more information, call 485-4965.

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