In the Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place we experienced Asheville’s 32nd annual production of The Nutcracker, that holiday staple filled with tapping soldiers, jazzy rats, mice, a tipsy maid, golden angels, the traditional snow scene plus the Kingdom of Sweets. The production consists exclusively of regional talent, from as far away as Morganton to the east and Western Carolina University to the west, and even includes a transplant from Florida. The result is a fairly stunning execution of Ann Dunn’s choreography of Tchaikovsky’s score, well paced at just under two hours.

Amid the traditional inventory of holiday activities it is hard to image the season without a local production of this historic ballet in nearly every large city, even Peoria. The premiere was exactly one hundred and fourteen years ago, and since then our children (or perhaps we, ourselves) have thrilled to the fantasy of the toy soldiers, sugar plum fairies, and the prospect of gifts among the seriously Victorian rich. It is a scene straight out of the Vanderbilt family album, which may or may not be coincidental. No matter, this production is a winner that hits all the marks

The story is that timeless and magical rite of passage from childhood to adulthood as viewed from adolescence. The warmth and camaraderie of family is an important central focus, as are the imagery and themes that abound during the festival of rebirth found at mid-winter in nearly all religions. The actual story is based on Alexander Dumas père’s translation of the tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, Nutcracker and Mouseking. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov were the original choreographers; Tchaikovsky started the score in 1891. So embedded in our holiday mind-set is this music that it is difficult to imagine hearing these movements in July.

Corporate sponsor Carolina First Bank hosted this opening night “dress” concert; a straight run-through in costume of a production in rehearsal since August. Many of the dancers are students of the Fletcher School of Dance and attend public and private local schools. Five dancers are graduating from the Fletcher School of Dance – Asheville Academy of Ballet Pre-Professional program: Solari Garren, Alex Schell, Emily Unks, Megan Weaver and Cassie Woods. All displayed excellent skills in this production.

Familiar names from previous Asheville Ballet productions helped this on along too: Lyle Laney, who in certain light is a double for Tom Cruise, only Lyle is a better dancer, Allison Hertzberg and Amy Kohler. There are at least thirty primary dancers and another two dozen – it seems – children. They dance, move, tumble, and some are outright gymnasts. The audio is Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the London Philharmonic, the dancers are well trained, the costumes are authentic period, and while it may not be Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo it certainly is a tremendous artistic asset in this community as assembled by Ann Dunn.

The performances run through Sunday, December 10, and include local matinee performances in area schools for over 1,000 students. If you are within earshot this would be a good production to witness.