Nuts to You 

Ballet Arizona brings the season's first Nutcracker to town.

For dance companies, a certain holiday ballet is becoming one tough nut to crack.

Every December, people who otherwise wouldn't set foot near a ballet flock with their children to The Nutcracker. It's the ultimate family-friendly show, with little kids and giant mice on stage in the first act, flashy dancing in the second act, and a gorgeous Tchaikovsky score and warm, festive feelings throughout.

Dance companies that struggle through the first 11 months of the year count on big box-office receipts from The Nutcracker to carry them through the rest of the season. The trouble is, several dance companies put on competing Nutcrackers. How can somebody who's not a dance fanatic decide which one to see?

Ballet Arizona is getting a jump on the competition, offering the first Tucson Nutcracker of the season this weekend. The Phoenix-based company, the state's professional ballet troupe, is hauling down a full-scale production with choreography by company artistic director Ib Andersen.

Fifty-eight local children will perform along with the company of adult professionals, but they won't be the only amateurs onstage. KVOA newshounds Lupita Murillo and Martha Vasquez will make cameos as parents in the opening party scene on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Sunday matinee will feature a walk-on by Mayor Bob Walkup and his wife, Beth. Just hope hizzoner doesn't start cutting any ribbons on the set.

There are pre-show inducements, too. Thirty minutes before the curtain rises, a character from the ballet will read the story of The Nutcracker in the lobby. After the storytelling, a free raffle ticket will be drawn, entitling one lucky child to be whisked backstage, put into full costume and makeup and taught some basic steps, appearing as a "Guest Soldier" during the performance.

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