This year marks the 10th anniversary of Denise Vogt's "The Nutcracker" for Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota. Dancers who started out as tiny snow angels in early productions have graduated to bigger roles for the full-length production of the seasonal classic, which shows next weekend at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.
Nicole Brown, 17, of Lakeville, has danced in every performance of this version of the holiday ballet for the past 10 years. This year she takes on the roles of the Flower Queen and Mouse Queen, their version of the Mouse King.
Brown first saw "The Nutcracker" as a toddler, when her mother toted her along to a performance. "She expected me to fall asleep or cry or something," she said, "but I stayed awake. She was amazed."
"It's something to look forward to each year," she said. "It never does get old. Your body gets physically tired, but I don't think I'll ever get tired of 'Nutcracker.' It's kind of just your classic holiday tradition."
Brown trains at Lakeville ballet school Ballet Royale, started in 2009 by Denise and Rick Vogt, both former professional dancers. After Denise Vogt started choreographing early productions of "The Nutcracker," the nonprofit Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota was formed essentially to put on the show.
Most of the students in the company are from Ballet Royale, but the company draws in performers from area dance schools and from professional dance companies locally and nationwide. They produced the show primarily at Lakeville South High School until 2010, when the performance moved to the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.
"It's great being in an independent professional theatre," Rick Vogt said. "We both benefit greatly. It's kind of a win-win."
This year's cast of about 120 features six professional dancers. Vlad Marculescu, an up-and-coming award-winning dancer from the Montgomery Ballet, who won first prize at the International Ballet Competition and second prize at National Ballet Olympics, takes on the role of Cavalier. Emily Short, a former student of the Vogts' who now dances professionally, has taken on almost every role over the past 10 years and this year plays the Snow Queen.
The dance in this version, the Vogts said, is very traditional, classical ballet, much of it en pointe. Their adaptation contains a little more swordplay between toy soldiers and mice. "I tell them to think 'Xena' or 'Highlander,'" Rick Vogt said.
Also, "ours is different because there is a lot of humor in it," said Denise Vogt. "We have some real wonderful characters on stage. These characters have developed over years and years."
They constantly tweak the show, she said, and this year, it means a brand-new costume for Mother Ginger, whose giant skirt a group of dancers scurry out from underneath. They've also redone the "Dance of the Mirlitons."
Mackenzie Moser, 13, who plays one of the Mirlitons, moved to Plymouth recently from Chicago. She has been dancing since age 3 and performed in a version of "The Nutcracker" in Pennsylvania, with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Moser aspires to parts like the Flower Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
"They're just graceful parts," she said, "and they're very challenging to learn to do.... It creates a lot of happiness," she said of the classic holiday show.
"I like that you can perform on stage in front of a lot of people and make a lot of people happy."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.