For the sixth consecutive year, Lincoln County dance studios will unite to perform for the community the beloved story of The Nutcracker, but a twist this time around will showcase the true meaning of Christmas and even incorporate a few additional holiday characters and songs not typically part of the storyline.
The more than 60-member cast, some of whom have performed the show more than once, is comprised of students ages 6 to 18 from Star Struck Dance Studio and Xtreme EDGE Dance Studio, both in Lincolnton, along with Expressions Dance Studio in Denver.
Additional dance students throughout the county were also allowed to audition, according to Star Struck owner Kelley Barker, but the three main studios orchestrated all choreography for the show.
Barker, whose 9-year-old daughter is participating in the program this year, opted with fellow dance instructors to turn the show’s theme into one more Christ-centered, writing their own version of what happens “beyond the dream” Clara has in the story.
With four vocalists presenting religious-themed Christmas tunes and North Lincoln High School’s Winter Guard team set to twirl their rifles and perform Tchaikovsky’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” the show is sure to make a memorable impression on this year’s audiences.
Eleven-year-old North Lincoln Middle School student Kaelyn Arndt is tackling the lead role of Clara.
She described her character as a “sweet little girl” with a mysteriousness surrounding her toy nutcracker.
Since September, a month after auditions took place, Arndt has been practicing her dance moves roughly three times a week.
Her confidence and elegance as she rehearsed at Star Struck Wednesday with other students in her class, who are set to play reindeer, mice, elves, sugar plums, snowflakes and additional roles, juxtaposed with her tiny stature and young age.
However, with this year being her fourth time in the production, her seasoned skills shine through — skills she’s developed and honed since taking her first dance lessons at age 2. For her, dancing is a way to de-stress and grow in relationships with friends.
“I get to express my feelings on the floor,” she said. “It lifts me up and helps me on a bad day.”
West Lincoln High School junior Ashton Johnson has tried out for the role of “Snow Queen” before, but it was not until this year that she actually made the cut.
With a dream to one day attend New York City’s famous Julliard School, a facility for students pursuing arts-related or entertainment careers, the 17-year-old remains dedicated and passionate about dancing.
She has been frequenting Barker’s studio for more than 15 years and has put in hours of practice for this month’s show.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Johnson said.
Over the years, her mother has inspired her to cultivate her talent and chase hard after her dreams.
“My mom always told me to never stop reaching for the stars,” the teen said.
Johnson hopes to convey the same message to younger dancers and girls with a similar passion in life.
“I want to do it (the show) for the kids and give them hope that they, too, can follow their dreams and never give up,” Johnson said.
Fellow dancer and Bandys High School student Darby Monsam considered herself just one of numerous girls throughout the world who have imagined themselves taking the stage in a Nutcracker production.
She said they watch the story on stage, television or other settings growing up, mesmerized by the characters and anxious to one day also model a tutu, leggings, leotard and ballet flats.
The Nutcracker: Beyond the Dream, sponsored by the Lincoln Times-News and the Lincoln Cultural Center, will show 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday at the James W. Warren Citizens Center in Lincolnton.
For more information or to purchase advanced tickets, visit lincolnculturalcenter.com or call (704) 732-9055.