"The Nutcracker," Long Beach Ballet

An annual dream. The holiday season. Presents bought and wrapped, trees decorated, houses lit. Kids let (or about to be let) out of school, some of whom will dream of a visit from Father Christmas aboard a gift-laden sled pulled by flying reindeer. The giddiness, the anticipation, the hope-kept-alive. Nuclear and ad hoc families convene to share joy and rapture. A sudden nightmare slaughter of innocents in Connecticut. Cancel Christmas? No, mourn and grieve, repair; but also continue to dream until it once again becomes as natural as breathing. What better time, then, for the Long Beach Ballet to perform a visionary Nutcracker, their 30th production of the holiday classic?

How apt. The Nutcracker is about kids; their wishes and fears, their enthusiasm and courage. We saw it enacted on the stage and absorbed in the audience. There didn't need to be a moment of silence before the show began. We all knew what this was really about.

Artistic Director David Wilcox's production, with sets by Elliot Hessayon and Scott Schaffer, costumes by Adrian Clark, and special effects by Franz Harary, enchants children and their parents with spectacle and awe. Deft choreography and stellar performances combine with Tchaikovsky's memorable score to stage a seasonal triumph of the imagination over darkness.

The story's framed as Clara's (Emma Sherman's) Christmas Eve dream. After she receives a nutcracker doll from her jolly and mysterious Uncle Drosselmayer (Ben Majors), a doll her brother Fritz (Brent Shavelle) immediately breaks. Uncle Drosselmayer fixes it (no need for extended warranties here), the party breaks up, and Clara dreams. A good guy Nutcracker (Sonny Sun) rescues her from a bad guy Mouse King (Craig Rexroad). A handsome Prince escorts her to the palace of a Snow King and Queen (Evan Swenson and Megan Wilcox). The royal couple treats her to an evening of spectacular entertainment. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Laura Gilbreath); spirited dancers from Arabia (Salene Lindsey and Ben Majors), China (Jacie Jewett and Sonny Sun), and Russia; a gigantic Mother Ginger (Hilde Byrne); the Dewdrop Fairy (Melissa Sandvig); all of which culminates in an out of this world Waltz of the Flowers and Pas de Deux. Then, the dream ends. Closure. She wakes up in the comfort of her own bed, in her own house, with her own family. Sometimes that's magic enough.

When you go, focus on the many and various clusters of adorable kids. The Spanish Corps, Angels, Sentries, Party Scene Children, Soldiers, Mother Ginger Children, Snowflakes, and, especially Little Mice. Year to year they're the focus of the production; this year more than ever.

Performances are 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 22, and 2 p.m., Sunday, December 23. Tickets are $25 - $65. The Terrace Theatre is located at 300 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach. For more information call (562) 426-4112 or visit www.longbeachballet.com.