All girls, said Anna Van Cura, dream of being whisked away to a magical land.
"Every little girl," she said, "wants to be Clara."
Clara is the young heroine of "The Nutcracker," the traditional Christmas story about a girl whose Christmas present -- a nutcracker -- turns into a prince, and who is swept off to a magical land of sweets, ruled by a kindly Sugar Plum Fairy and populated by delicacies from around the world.
"The Nutcracker," with score by Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky, is a beloved winter ballet. It will be performed this weekend by Ballet Tennessee, of which VanCura, is artistic director.
It is the music, she said, that she believes inspires audiences to want to see "The Nutcracker" year after year.
"To me, the story of the Nutcracker is charming, but what really pulls the heartstrings is the Tchaikovsky music. It is so rich and so beautiful, so melodic. Because I think the second act has a lot of short variations, people have actually learned to hum parts of it. It becomes familiar."
Despite the great tradition of the ballet, however, Ballet Tennessee does not perform "The Nutcracker" every year, to give the dancers in the company a variety of opportunities.
"There are times the dancers have advanced through many of the roles, and there is no place for them to go but to start repeating the roles over and over again," VanCura said.
IF YOU GO
What: Ballet Tennessee presents "The Nutcracker."
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: UTC Fine Arts Center, corner of Vine and Palmetto streets.
This year, the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy will be danced by Alondra Gomez. At 14, she is dancing the role for the first time and is, the artistic director said, the youngest dancer in the company's history to take on the part.
The two girls sharing the role of Clara, Reagan Sanborn and Keely Hein, will dance en pointe for the some of the scenes but will be in soft ballet slippers for others. The choreography was chosen to accommodate the dancers, both of whom VanCura said are new pointe students.
Alondra's younger brother, Juan, appears as one of the party children as well as a Chinese attendant. He is also the understudy for the role of the Nutcracker prince.
Indeed, the production is a family affair. Several siblings are cast in the ballet. Stephen Ricketts, who dances as the Nutcracker prince, came to the ballet through his sister, Candace, who is a member of the company. Candace will dance the role of the Snow Queen.
Stephen, VanCura said, is not a formally trained dancer but has a marvelous stage presence.
"He just handled himself so well," she said, "and he's working on the dance steps. It's exciting to see him delve into [the dance]."
The choreography, Van Cura said, is tailored to the individual dancers to best showcase their abilities.
"We will change variations completely sometimes. Other times we just tweak them a little bit. We always restage the first-act party scene based on the children we have that year. The dancers are strong, they're committed, they're competitive, but they're supporting each other."