There are those uniquely Kansas City traditions that always seem to ring in the holiday season — the flipping of the switch on the Plaza lights and the lighting of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree at Crown Center come to mind.
But for a lot of Kansas Citians it wouldn’t be the holidays without seeing the Kansas City Ballet’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker.”
The beloved ballet returns to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday and runs through Dec. 24 for its 41st season. And when the curtain goes up on the show, residents from both sides of the state line will take their places on the stage as part of the production.
Eleven-year-old Natalia DaSilva of Prairie Village will make her fourth appearance in the ballet, this year as a soldier. Natalia said she can’t imagine the holidays without it.
“I think it’s something fun to do around Christmas,” Natalia said. “I love to dance and I think it just has a lot of meaning.”
Natalia is just one of 200 Kansas City Ballet School students ages 6-18 who will dance across the stage during the show’s 18 performances. It takes a lot of practice for students to pull off the performances. Ballet students typically spend four hours every weekend practicing for the show, in addition to their regular ballet classes during the week.
That’s a lot of rehearsals to keep track of for mom Jenifer Colligan of Parkville. She’s got not one, but three children performing in this year’s “Nutcracker.” Son Rory, 7, will make his “Nutcracker” debut this year, joining brother Aidan, 11, and sister Rachel, 13, who are veterans of the show.
For Rachel, who has performed in “Nutcracker” six times, a broken leg this summer nearly sidelined her dreams of performing in this year’s show.
“I really look forward to ‘The Nutcracker’ and I was really worried that I wouldn’t be in it,” Rachel said. “It has always been part of my Christmas season and it would really stink if I wasn’t a part of it. I am just glad that everything worked out so well.”
For ballet students, one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in the production is the rare chance to perform alongside professional dancers from the Kansas City Ballet.
Twelve-year-old Lucy Petet of Lee’s Summit counts it as one of her favorite things about performing in the show, which she has done for the last four years.
“It’s really a great experience and it adds to my knowledge,” Lucy said. “I learn so much more dancing ‘The Nutcracker.’ I learn a lot from the company members. Plus dancing on the Kauffman stage is really amazing.”
While she may not be putting on any ballet slippers and dancing with any sugar plum fairies, 69-year-old Joyce Garrison of Kansas City has her own connection to the yearly performance. For the last 20 years, Garrison and her granddaughter Meredith Beggs of Lee’s Summit have attended the show together.
“We started when she was 4 years old and now she is 23,” Garrison said. “We have always made a big deal out of ‘The Nutcracker.’ It’s what she and I do together every year.”
And when she said big deal, she’s not kidding. Every year Garrison’s husband Steve acts as chauffeur, driving her and her granddaughter to a restaurant where he drops them off before the show for dinner. He then comes back for them, drops them off at the performance and returns to take them home.
“It’s kind of like a Cinderella thing: He’s our coachman,” Garrison said.
When her granddaughter was much younger, she would even take her shopping for a special dress to wear to the show. Garrison said she always tries to buy her tickets as close to Christmas as possible. For her it’s the perfect culmination of the holiday season.
“Over the years, it has become so important to us,” Garrison said. “I always call her on the day that I get the tickets and I say, ‘I got our tickets’ and she says, ‘I can’t wait.’”