The tale of Clara and the Nutcracker will unfold on the Kutztown High School stage as 60 dancers from across Berks perform the classic Christmas ballet “The Nutcracker” Dec. 16 and 17.

“The Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition,” said Kutztown Dance Center Director Priscilla Knight. “For the Kutztown Dance Center, because since it’s a dance studio, we wanted something our ballet students could really get behind and help them feel special and give them an opportunity to perform in a professional full-length ballet, complete with lighting, sets, costumes... And do all of the specialty parts all on their own.”

While not bringing in soloist performers or spending $100,000 like some of the bigger dance companies, Knight said the Kutztown Dance Center presents a professional quality full-length ballet performance.

“I think that’s what’s so special for us is to be able to do that in a little town like Kutztown,” said Knight. “It gives (our dancers) something to look forward to. Our littlest, the Angels, they come in with their first Nutcracker and look at all of these older girls and say I want to be the Sugarplum Fairy or the Spanish Dancer... It keeps them interested. It keeps them involved. It makes them appreciate ballet.”

The cast ranges in age from 5 to 50 and includes dancers from the Berks County and surrounding areas, including Kutztown, Hamburg, Fleetwood, Topton, Mohrsville, Oley, Parkland, as well as dancers from Culture Shock in Hamburg.

“We try to open it to any child who wants to be involved in The Nutcracker. This is a joy of mine and a passion so I want everybody to feel like they’re taking part,” said Knight, noting that the dancers make lasting friendships that continue after the ballet performance. “It’s like a family.”

Mark Dalton, 15, of Mohrsville portrays the Nutcracker, his second year in this role.

“Generally as any person in this position would feel, I’m excited to do it,” said Dalton. “I just take it as any other thing I would do, whether I’d be swimming a race, going to school.”

His favorite part is the camaraderie.

Andrea Boyer, 19, of Fleetwood, who portrays the Sugarplum Fairy, agrees.

“Just the friendliness of everyone and getting together for the holiday,” said Boyer who has been participating in The Nutcracker since she was little.

Jasmine Evans, 13, of Fleetwood, who portrays Clara, has been participating in The Nutcracker since age 7.

“It’s really exciting (to portray Clara). I’m really happy to do it,” said Evans. “I like acting so it’s fun.”

The cast also includes generations of dancers, including the Schnell family of Kutztown.

In addition to their own dance parts, Lisa Schnell and her daughters Fiora, 12, and Marina, 15, all dance in Snow. Lisa has been dancing since her youth and now dancing in The Nutcracker has become a family tradition, even her husband Steven has participated in the past.

“It’s just such a big, complex show. The choreography is incredible. The costumes are gorgeous. Priscilla pays such attention to detail and helps us all do our very best and really makes it fun,” said Lisa. “Now, I get to dance with both of my daughters. That’s really fun for me.”

“It’s nice that everybody’s together,” said Marina.

“It’s a lot of time and work but we enjoy it and it keeps us in shape,” added Lisa. “Any creative process starting from chaos and having things come together and really polish it ... and having friends and family come visit is also fun.”

Rehearsals started in August, spending five hours and more on Saturday and Sunday. That time spent in rehearsal gives them a boost in technique, going beyond point your toes and lift up. There are about 250 to 300 costumes which means there are multiple costume changes for the 60 dancers throughout the show.

“We put so much time and energy into this performance and production,” said Knight. “Nowadays, ballet is a shrinking art... They don’t realize that ballet is a foundation. The Nutcracker helps to stimulate interest in ballet... It makes everyone feel special. It makes ballet a living art.”

Owned by Micaela Hulsebos, Knight’s daughter, the Kutztown Dance Center opened at its Main Street location in October.

“The Nutcracker” will be performed at Kutztown Area High School auditorium at 7 p.m. on Dec. 16 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 17. The Nutcracker runs approximately 1 1/2 hours. Please call 844-532-3262 or email for tickets.

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