Russian ballerina Anna Radik estimates she has danced in at least 200 “Nutcracker” ballets.
“Although I never counted,” she says.
But since Radik started studying at the age of 7 and is now 34, an estimate of 200 is probably on the low side. After all, Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” is a beloved tradition in Russia.
Radik herself became a professional ballerina at age 19.
“My parents worked in theater,” she says. “I was raised backstage.”
Today, Radik is a ballerina with the Moscow Ballet. She also travels around to cities where the ballet will perform to audition and train young dance students so they can participate in performances.
“They’ve done this for 25 years,” Radik says. “We have some special parts and events created especially for the kids.”
Every detail is taken care of in advance. The children will even wear costumes provided by the Moscow Ballet.
“The first audition takes maybe three days,” Radik says. “They rehearse for one ½ to two months.”
Such an opportunity is great for dance students.
“I think it gives them a lot of experience,” Radik says. “It gives them an opportunity to perform with professionals from another country. I think it’s very good for them.”
One of the highlights of the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” is that it is performed to Tchaikovsky’s full score, including the prologue.
There are several Russian touches, including the scenery, which includes the onion domes of the Moscow skyline. Among the magical toys at the Act 1 party will be life-sized nesting dolls called Matryoshka.
The Snow Forest scene will feature Russian troikas, sleighs that are considered the fastest in the world. Father Christmas and a Snow Maiden will escort Masha and the Prince in the troika sleigh.
The story is about a girl who falls in love with the Nutcracker Prince on Christmas Eve.
This production will feature award-winning principal dancers and a company of 40 corps de ballet. In Act II, the Land of Sweets will become the Land of Peace and Harmony with a Dove of Peace created by two dancers wearing 20-foot wings.
Heidi M. Carter, artistic director of The Ballet School in Savannah, says 60 local dancers ranging in age from 6 to 17 will share the stage with professional dancers from the Moscow Ballet.
“They come from Savannah, surrounding counties and South Carolina, and one student is coming from North Carolina,” Carter says. “They had to audition, so the Moscow Ballet sent one of their dancers, who also stayed and gave master classes.”
Even though her studio hosted the event, Carter and her faculty had no say in who was chosen.
“We rehearse them every weekend,” she says. “We will meet up to the day of the performance.”
The students will dance the parts of the party children, mice, snowflakes and snow maidens. Several volunteers will be backstage to make sure each child gets into the right costume and on stage at the right time.
One of the perks in performing in “Nutcracker” is getting to watch it.
“They get to watch the actual Moscow production,” Carter says. “Some of the younger children may not have seen ‘Nutcracker’ before.”
It’s going to be a long day for both the children and adult volunteers.
“We have the same children in both the matinee and evening performance,” Carter says. “The whole group has to be there from beginning to end.
“They’re going to have to sit for hours. They have to be at the theater at 9 a.m. and they have a 3 p.m. show and still can’t leave until after the evening show.
“That’s a lot of children to have to maintain,” she says. “It requires one adult for every eight students.”
But they’re up for the challenge.
“We’ll have our people on either side of stage right and stage left getting them on and off on time,” Carter says. “We have a whole system worked out.
“We’ll be trying to keep them quiet and entertained. They have to bring sack lunches.
“We just have to be united,” she says. “Hopefully, they don’t have to go to the bathroom at the same time.”
Carter is grateful to her parent volunteers.
“The parents come up with crafts and games,” she says. “The majority of the children are 9 and up.”
Despite the challenges, the experience is going to be exciting.
“It’s always fun,” Carter says. “But whenever we do something like this, our parents are giving up a lot of time.
“We run our regular school on Saturday and when we finish, start rehearsals. The teachers and myself are all volunteer.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Carter says. “We have a gal who is doing tickets, and we’ve had such great volunteers coming in and wanting to help out. It’s really been a community effort.”
While local dance schools do their own versions of “Nutcracker” and the Columbia City Ballet uses local dancers in its Savannah production, this is the first time the Moscow Ballet has used local dancers in Savannah. The Moscow Ballet is so delighted with the outcome, this may become an annual event.
“When I talked to their manager in Boston, she said she hoped we are willing to do this next year,” Carter says. “She was surprised at how many people turned out for the master classes and were showing interest in doing them again.
“This really was a hit with the younger dancers. They really worked with them and now they have a chance to go onstage.
“They will be working with a professional company, and even though they’re not sitting on the sidelines, will be able to see how they rehearse and what it takes to be a dancer,” Carter says. “They were very excited when the young lady came in for the master classes.”
Several boys participated in the master classes as well.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Carter says. “She was beautiful to look at and this is such a big deal to them.
“They have someone to look up to. We know they aren’t all going to be professional dancers, and that’s OK.
“But we still feel the discipline we incur makes for a better person as they get older,” she says. “I’m hoping this will continue over the years. They did choose us, which is an honor.”
IF YOU GO
What: Moscow Ballet’s ‘Great Russian Nutcracker’
When: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 29
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
Info: 912-525-5050, savannahboxoffice.com