Each year as we begin to prepare for our annual presentation of The Peanutcracker-The Story in a Nutshell, I am reminded that we live in a very special community, filled with a joyous family spirit during the holiday season.

This year’s Peanutcracker features the local professional dancers of Sierra Nevada Ballet, 86 student dancers from the Reno/Carson area in the children’s roles, and one of the performances will be narrated in both English and Spanish.

This 45-minute narrated version of The Nutcracker was a big hit in the SF Bay Area in the early 1990s and has been an annual tradition at SNB since the company was founded in 2001. Audience members (and even some professional dancers) often tell us that they have seen or been a part of The Nutcracker ballet for many years but never understood the story until seeing our short, narrated version.

This little gem of a production is not only popular with audiences; it has also become meaningful to those who experience it both on stage and behind the scenes.

Heidi Alford Skursky is an experienced professional dancer who joined the SNB professional company as a demi-soloist in 2020. Heidi danced many roles in The Nutcracker ballet in other states and finds Peanutcracker unique: “Peanutcracker is special because of how it is designed and choreographed for children. Most Nutcrackers are very long and can be difficult to follow, but I love that Peanutcracker is for everyone! You don’t have to know the story because it is narrated and easy to follow. The story actually makes sense now! I love bringing the joy of the holidays to all the community through dancing in Peanutcracker.”

Kaitrin Wilde first performed in Peanutcracker after auditioning for the SNB corps de ballet in 2014 and has been part of it ever since: “What makes Peanutcracker so special to me is being able to perform this show yearly with my fellow company members and seeing the excitement and joy Peanutcracker brings to the children and to our community.”

Anthony McMenamy began performing in Peanutcracker as a small child and is now a soloist in the professional company. Anthony looks forward to Peanutcracker every year: “Peanutcracker is special to me because it’s a chance to showcase dance to school children in an accessible environment. Seeing the letters the kids write after the performance is always inspiring and reminds me of the equitable power of dance as an art form.”

Annika Johnson started out in the Peanutcracker children’s cast and is now a featured dancer in the professional company. This is Annika’s eleventh year being a part of Peanutcracker: “My favorite part of Peanutcracker is that it is passed down from one person to the next. Younger students are coached and helped by older students, who are coached by the SNB trainees/apprentices, who are coached by the SNB company members. It really becomes a collaborative effort that forms strong connections throughout the academy and the professional company which translates into our community.”

Gina Nelson was first introduced to Peanutcracker 15 years ago and found herself immediately attracted; she joined the SNB Board, became the Company Coordinator for Carson City performances, and later started the SNB Peanutcracker Educational Outreach Program in the schools. Gina’s goal has been to give members of the community arts exposure and the opportunity to experience ballet through Peanutcracker.

In Gina’s 13 years of leadership the Educational program has grown from two classrooms to SNB’s annually visiting 26 classrooms. Teachers share their appreciation for the experience explaining that there is presently little art exposure for young people in the schools and that most of their students only get to go on outings that consist of a visit to Walmart or a fast-food restaurant.

Gina finds great joy in taking part in the SNB educational outreach: “I love watching the students stand up and dance and become so interactive and ask questions,” Gina said. “My involvement with Peanutcracker has become a passion, and my heart becomes full after each performance.”

On the day of performance Gina dresses up in various fun holiday costumes and greets the young audience members as they enter the theater. “I get giddy at the excitement of the children as they fill the theater,” she said. “I also love what Peanutcracker does for the members of the cast (from the smallest student dancer to our regular SNB professionals). When the cast hears the audience cheer as the curtain rises, they are filled with joy.”

In the past two years SNB has added a short audience holiday carol “singalong” before the curtain rises, to get everyone in the spirit. It is very uplifting for all of us to hear an audience of 1,500 people in the community singing together.

Gina expressed it best: “Peanutcracker is so special because it truly brings the entire community together.”

See SNB’s Peanutcracker-The Story in a Nutshell – Dec. 1 (10 AM and 12 PM); Dec. 2 (2:00 PM and 4:00 PM) at the Carson City Community Center; Dec. 3 (2:00 PM and 5:00 PM); Dec.4 (10 AM and 12:00 PM) at the Pioneer Center for The Performing Arts in Reno. For ticket information visit www.sierranevadaballet.org or call 775-360-8663