As you might imagine, it takes a lot to put on a production of Tchaikovsky's 1892 classic "The Nutcracker" with an ensemble of 160 people.

There are necessities you'd expect, like time, dedication, funding. And things that might not pop to mind right away, like 30 pounds of snow.

In its 19th year of Rat Kings and Sugar Plum Fairies, Dance Kids of Monterey County presents "The Nutcracker," showing Friday through Sunday at the Sunset Center.

Young Clara and Fritz receive Christmas gifts from the magical and mysterious Drosselmeyer. Clara's is a particularly beautiful nutcracker that a jealous Fritz soon breaks. Falling asleep later under the tree, clutching her repaired toy, Clara dreams the nutcracker has come to life, engaging in a fierce battle with a band of rats and escorting her to the Land of Snow and the Land of Sweets in the form of a prince.

This year's Dance Kids cast is bigger than ever before. And while you wouldn't use ballet as the first clue to predicting the economy, founder Carol Richmond thinks the burgeoning auditions were a sign of things turning around.

"(In the past few years) there was more of a pulling back on many levels," she said. Though kids showed up for classes, more families seemed to be keeping their youngsters out of the bigger production.

This time around, that changed.


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"Hopefully people are hopeful about our country and the economy."

Some generous funding has helped the nonprofit continue to foot the bill for pricey costumes, scholarships and, of course, snow.

"It's our policy not to turn anybody away," said Richmond. "It's a mandate from the early days."

The year 2008 saw the end of Dance Kids' full-length spring ballets due to lack of funding, something that weighs heavily on Richmond's heart. But their signature piece has continued and thrived.

Dance Kids of Monterey County is getting a leg up on the holiday season with its performance of Nutcracker Dec. 14-16 at the Sunset Center in Carmel.
Dance Kids of Monterey County is getting a leg up on the holiday season with its performance of Nutcracker Dec. 14-16 at the Sunset Center in Carmel. (Gregg Wutke)

"I'm jazzed," said Richmond, who hears time and again about the quality of the performers and the production of "The Nutcracker." "It's not a kids' show," she said.

The Gala Benefit on Friday will include a live auction for the first time ever, with prizes such as a week's stay in a house in Provence, France. Not a kids' show, indeed.

Pack away your California casual; the gala is a black tie optional affair. According to Richmond, the effort and training that has gone into such a performance warrant something more: "The least we can do is dress up."

Another way to get involved and get the little ones excited is the Sugar Plum Fairy Party before Sunday's performance, featuring a luncheon, party activities and favors, and photos with "Nutcracker" characters.

Except for the two male leads, The Nutcracker and Cavalier, all the talent on stage is home-grown.

Seven of the girls will graduate and move on to college after this show. "I'm getting goosebumps when I talk about it," Richmond said.

Kyra Burns, a senior at Carmel High, began with Dance Kids when she was 9. Her debut was as a rat. Not just any rat, mind you. She was the rat who chases Clara across the stage.

Her roles over the years have included Chinese lead, lead maid and candy cane lead. For her final appearance, Burns will play the Angel Queen.

"I love the family that Dance Kids has created and everything that they promote," said the 17-year-old.

Burns is applying to major in dance at UC Irvine and UCLA. She not only has to fill out those college applications and tweak her essays, she also has to audition in person. "It is not an easy feat."

Currently a teacher at the Carmel Academy of Performing Arts, Burns hopes to find studios to continue teaching in while she's studying.

Growing up in Virginia, it was a tradition in Burns' family to go to the show every year. Once she moved to the Peninsula and had the opportunity to be on stage with it, the magic just grew.

The appeal of doing "The Nutcracker" for Burns comes down to personal connections. "We see the same people every year and then we see new faces and we invite them in."

Nineteen years and counting. Let it snow, Monterey County. 

Kathryn Petruccelli can be reached at montereybound@yahoo. GO!


DANCE
What: Dance Kids of Monterey County presents Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker"
Where: Sunset Center, San Carlos Street at Ninth Avenue, Carmel
When: 7 p.m. Fri-Sat, Dec. 14-15, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15. Gala Benefit Reception 5-6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14; Sugar Plum Fairy Party noon-1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16
Tickets: $30 general, $28 seniors, military and students, $24 under 12, $22 group rate. Gala $75 adult, $42 children; Sugar Plum Fairy Party $55/$48, available at 620-2048 or sunsetcenter.org, or from the Sunset Center box office

(Mon-Fri 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat. noon-4 p.m.)
Information: www.dancekids.org; sunsetcenter.org