At this time every year, thousands of productions of "The Nutcracker" are staged across America. The productions may vary, but the shows' attendance does not. "The Nutcracker" has become a holiday staple, and nowhere is the show's ongoing appeal more apparent than right here in Williamsport. You can even assign a number to it. That number is 49.
The Williamsport Civic Ballet will stage its 49th annual production of "The Nutcracker" at 4 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
Tom and Kay Enterline founded the Williamsport Civic Ballet School and Company in 1962 - the same year they staged their first production of Tchaikovsky's holiday classic.
Since that first performance, the show's scale has steadily increased. The company's first performance featured a total of 11 dancers (including Tom and Kay). This year's show will feature 54 dancers. An 11-member company can only do so much, meaning those first productions were considerably scaled down.
"When we first started we only performed the 'Nutcracker Suite,' which is a portion of the full 'Nutcracker' production," Kay said. "Over the years, as the company grew and our dancers got stronger, we started performing the complete 'Nutcracker.' "
The Enterlines' "Nutcracker" productions also vary in terms of choreography from one year to the next. "The essential story never changes, but the choreography does," Kay said. "We try to change the first act's choreography every year to keep it interesting. Having new dancers every year makes every production new and exciting, too."
This year's company dancers represent a total of five counties. "They come from as far away as Berwick, Mifflinburg, Middleburg," Tom said. "We cover quite an area because we want to recruit talent from all over."
Along with the Civic Ballet company dancers, this year's performance will feature returning soloists April Giangeruso and Roman Zhurbin from the American Ballet Theatre in New York City.
According to Tom, having April and Roman around is a great bonus for the younger members of the company. "The kids love them," Tom said. "It's great having them perform with us. They are so good, and it makes our dancers understand why we push them as hard as we do. Having the experience of seeing professional dancers at work is a unique experience for them."
Kay also stressed the benefits of having two professional dancers in the company. "April and Roman sit backstage throughout most of the show and encourage the kids before they go on. It helps them a lot," she said.
The Williamsport Civic Ballet performs two shows per year: "The Nutcracker" and the annual Spring Show. The Enterlines said "The Nutcracker" has always been the company's biggest draw.
"It's like that with most companies," Kay said. "Its draws people in that don't usually have a great interest in ballet. The story draws them in. It's a fairy tale and everyone lives happily ever after. There's something to be said for that these days."
Attending "The Nutcracker" has become a holiday tradition for many families. According to Kay, this also may account for the show's popularity. "We get a very positive response from our 'Nutcracker' audience every year," Kay said. "Everyone knows 'Nutcracker' and can enjoy the dance. It's accessible to everyone. We've gotten letters from people saying 'thank you for putting on this show - it starts our family's holiday season.' "
If that's true for audience members, imagine what "The Nutcracker" means to the Enterlines, who have directed, choreographed, danced and designed productions for the past 49 years. "'The Nutcracker' means Christmas for us," Kay said.
Many who have not attended a performance of "The Nutcracker" will nevertheless be familiar with Tchaikovsky's famous musical score, which is often heard during the holidays. The Enterlines, who have heard that famous music for the past 49 years, said they haven't tired of it one bit. "It's beautiful music," Kay said. "And yes, we hear it all the time - even in the grocery store - but I never get tired of it."
"The fact that it's lasted this long is a testament to Tchaikovsky's talent," Tom added. "It's glorious music."
When asked what they hoped to impart to their audience, Kay said the same thing they've always wanted to impart. "Just a nice feeling of having enjoyed it. We want to set the holiday mood."
The performance is preceded by the annual "Nutcracker Tea," which is held at 2 p.m. in the Capitol Lounge at the Community Arts Center and required a separate ticket. For more information and tickets, contact the Williamsport Ballet Guild at 323-2953.
For more information about the show and tickets, contact the Community Arts Center at 326-2424, or visit www.caclive.com.