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The Nutcracker

"Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker," by The Joffrey Ballet, features two full children's casts. The ballet runs through Dec. 30 at The Auditorium Theatre.

It's an annual tradition that young local dancers have the opportunity to audition for The Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker."

Currently helping the acclaimed troupe's "Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker" come to life are young performers from Northwest Indiana and Chicago's suburbs.

"Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker," by The Joffrey Ballet, continues through Dec. 30 at The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Choreographer Wheeldon's version, which is set during the time of Chicago's Columbian Exposition, is being performed for the third year.

"I love working with the kids. I look forward to it every year," said Suzanne Lopez, ballet master for "The Nutcracker" children's cast. "It's fun watching them go through the whole process."

Lopez said she remembers how special seeing "The Nutcracker" was as a child. And for the young dancers currently performing in the holiday favorite, it's often a dream come true for many of them.

"I wanted to be in 'The Nutcracker' because I like to perform. I've been dancing since I was three years old," said Norah Bognar, 10, of Munster. "My role is a little snowflake."

Norah said it's her first time performing in The Joffrey's holiday production.

Young cast members star in a variety of roles in the beloved ballet including soldiers, party girls and boys, mice and other characters.

Lopez said the Joffrey's current production is a novel one, which is quite different from the usual "Nutcrackers."

"What's special about this story is that it takes it away from an upper class family and (focuses) on a single mother with two children," she said, adding the family really has nothing of monetary value. Setting it in Chicago at a historical time, Lopez said, is also unique and fascinating.

There are two full children's casts for the show, Lopez said. In total, about 100  local children have the chance to perform. "The kids work really hard," she said, adding that what they have to do in the show takes strong team work and individual tenacity.

Dancer Norah said she's enjoying The Joffrey's "Nutcracker."

"I like that it's different than the other 'Nutcrackers' because it's about Chicago," Norah said.

Norah's mother Heather said she was happy to see that her daughter is enjoying being in the production. Heather Bognar was also a dancer who performed in "The Nutcracker" with the former Pennsylvania-Milwaukee Ballet.

"When I was a kid in the late '80s, I danced as a party girl (in the ballet)," Heather said.

Norah, who studies at The Dance Gallery in Munster, is a student at Eads Elementary School in Munster.

Abigail Sanford of Lockport, Illinois, said she's having an "amazing" time being involved in The Joffrey's "Nutcracker."

Sanford, who performs in a couple of roles, including a toy soldier, said it was her first time in the production.

"My sister had been in the original one a few years ago," she said.

Sandford, 12, said her roles in the show are fairly challenging because "everything is on the count and very precise." Sandford, a student at Wings Dance Studio in Lockport, said she's been dancing since she was two years old.

Annual auditions for The Joffrey's "Nutcracker" usually take place in the summer with rehearsals beginning in September.

FYI: The Joffrey Ballet presents "Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker," through Dec. 30 at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. Tickets are $35 to $199. Call 312-386-8905 or visit Joffrey.org.

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Entertainment Editor/Features Reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.