Seasonal shows are lighting up stages across Chicagoland. And for many families, it's a tradition to attend a special show to share in the spirit of the season.

Productions of "The Nutcracker" abound every year on stages across the area and the Windy City. The casts of the favorite holiday ballet where toys, sugar plum fairies, and nutcrackers come to life, regularly include young local dancers.

"The Nutcracker" remains one of the starring productions of various dance troupes including companies such as Indiana Ballet Theatre to The Joffrey Ballet, Salt Creek Ballet, Ruth Page Civic Ballet, South Shore Dance Alliance and others.

This past week Indiana Ballet Theatre presented its elegant production at Star Plaza Theatre while Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker" was performed Saturday at The Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University. The Ruth Page Civic Ballet's production was performed this weekend and will be presented again Dec. 21 and 22.

The Joffrey Ballet's beloved production of Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" opened Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 28 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. In its children's cast, The Joffrey regularly features young dancers from Northwest Indiana, the South Side of Chicago and Chicago's South Suburbs.

"We have 118 kids in the show," said Katie Garwood, children's cast director for The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

We love to see diversity in the cast. The Joffrey embraces diversity," Garwood said, adding auditions for the children's cast took place in mid-September and dancers were chosen from a variety of areas and schools. The director added working with the acclaimed company is a great opportunity for young dancers who are "well trained and committed to being willing to learn."

In addition to working hard, the young cast members, Garwood said, have a unique and positive experience performing in the ballet.

"It's also fun for them to have a new community of friends," she said.

For families attending "The Nutcracker," Garwood said "It's become a tradition which many families look forward to celebrating together."

For Kaci King of Valparaiso, performing in The Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" is a rare and exciting experience.

"I felt shocked. I didn't know I was going to make it," Kaci said.

Her mother Julie King said she and the family were excited to learn Kaci, 9, had won a role in the production. Julie King said her daughter is an undefeated dance champion who last season, and in previous seasons, has won awards for her dancing. Kaci studies jazz dance at Eclipse Performing Arts Centre in Chesterton.

"What I like about 'The Nutcracker' is it's such an amazing show where all these dancers come together to make a beautiful production," said Kaci, who performs as a snow tree angel in the ballet.

Carol Dilts, of Gary, this year, is performing in "The Nutcracker" for the second time.

"I am so excited. It's probably one of the biggest highlights of the holiday season and my year," said Dilts. Her mother Megan Cecil said they were ecstatic she's involved in the show.

"It's an honor, and it's an opportunity to perform with professional dancers," Cecil said.

Dilts, 14, a student at Indiana Ballet Theatre and The Joffrey Academy of Dance, won the roles of a mouse in the battle scene and a Polichenelle, one of the dancers who emerge from character Mother Ginger's giant hoop skirt, in the party scene.

As part of the Ruth Page Civic Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker," Portage's Julianne Kinasiewicz will once again perform as character Clara. Her mother, Therese, also plays a part in the adult ensemble of the show.

According to The Joffrey's Garwood, the holiday ballet is overall "a beautiful story of a girl who gets to see her dreams come true."

The following is a sampling of productions of "The Nutcracker."

• "The Nutcracker," by The Joffrey Ballet, runs through Dec. 28 at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. Tickets range from $31 to $132. Call (800) 982-2787 or visit ticketmaster.com

• Ruth Page Civic Ballet performs "The Nutcracker" at 1 and  5 p.m. today at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. S. Louis Ave., Chicago and at 5 p.m. Dec. 21 and 3 p.m. Dec. 22 at College of Lake County, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake, Ill.  Tickets for the Chicago performance are $25 for general admission, $18 for students and senior citizens and $5 for Northeastern Illinois University students. Tickets for the Grayslake performance are $12 to $30. Visit jlc.clcillinois.edu.

• "Cirque du Jazz: A Nutcracker Tale" runs Dec. 20 to 22 at Wirt Emerson Auditorium, 210 N. Grand Boulevard, Gary. The show is presented by Gary Community School Corporation and South Shore Dance Alliance. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children and senior citizens. Visit southshoredance.org


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.