A lot of activity is going on behind the scenes of the Ballet Company of East County as the cast, crew and many supporters prepare for this season's presentation of "The Nutcracker."
Organizer Nina Koch and her staff pride themselves on making this an enriching experience for the dancers, as Hannah Rose, this year's Clara, and Julia Fajardo, who will be performing as the Flower Queen, can attest.
Part of the mission of the ballet company is to help the dancers grow to be strong, confident, resilient people, but for these girls, they have developed so much more.
"It was hard; it was actually when I started doing 'The Nutcracker' that I first started taking ballet," Rose said. "We are required to take at least one ballet class a week in order to participate in the Nutcracker. When I started I didn't like it and almost quit, but the moment I stepped on that stage I knew I wanted to perform as much as possible."
The cast and crew began the program in August with auditions and rehearsals quickly following. Over that time, Fajardo, a seven-year veteran of "The Nutcracker" ballet, said that the performers have gotten to know each other through activities and rehearsals.
"My favorite part about being the Flower Queen is seeing the younger ballerinas in the show looking up to me in rehearsal, which pushes me to strive to be the best I can be. Plus, I get to finally wear a tiara in my last and final year in the show," she said.
Rose, 14, has experienced a lot of the same thing during these past few months, stating that she has become excited about partnering with so with her good friend David Elness who will performing as the Nutcracker Prince in this year's production.
"Partnering is something that I have never done before and is a very important skill for a dancer to have," she said. "There are lots of lifts and I am often thrown in the air as well and that is really scary and requires a huge amount of trust between partners."
Rose has been waiting a long time to get to play the role of Clara in this Ballet of East County's "Nutcracker" performance. So a lot of young girls to get the chance to perform as Clara, Koch only allows a dancer to play that part once while with the company.
"I am extremely excited for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I will truly do my best to make the most of it," Rose said.
While this is her first time as Clara, Rose has performed for the past eight years, playing many different roles, including a cookie, an angel, a mouse, a marzipan, a flower, a cherub, a Russian, and the Doll.
"Each of these roles has been an amazing experience for me and allowed me to grow as a dancer and a performer," she said.
This will sadly be Fajardo's seventh and last year in the Ballet of East County's performance of "The Nutcracker." At 18 and in her final year at Liberty High School, she has found the ability to perform in "The Nutcracker" a fun experience and has really enjoyed the chance to dance.
"My favorite thing about ballet is the ability of looking graceful to others but, in fact, our muscles are constantly working hard, which creates excruciating pain throughout our body that is worth it in the end," Fajardo said.
This Sunday fans of the Nutcracker will have the chance to enjoy a "magical tea party" with Clara and other cast members. The event will take place at 4 p.m. at the Summerset IV Clubhouse, 770 Centennial Drive, Brentwood.
Tickets are $12 each and available at the front desk of either East County Performing Arts Center at 700 Harvest Park Drive, Brentwood or 5865 Lone Tree Way, Antioch.
The Ballet Company of East County has been bringing "The Nutcracker" to El Campanil Theater in Antioch for the past nine years. This year's performance will be at noon and 4 p.m.
Dec. 21 and 22. Tickets for "The Nutcracker" are on sale at the El Campanil Theater box office at 602 W. Second St., Antioch. For more information, contact The Ballet Company of East County at 925-240-5556.
What: "The Nutcracker"
When: Noon and 4 p.m. Dec. 21 and 22
Where: El Campanil Theatre, 602 W. Second St., Antioch
Cost: $16 to $20.
Info: The Ballet Company of East County at 925-240-5556.