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Land of the sweets 

A little girl watches her Christmas dreams come to life on a magical journey through a land of dancing toys and sweets. By now this is a familiar story for most: The Nutcracker is performed on stages across the world year after year. And this year the Rochester City Ballet and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra give us a revamped version of our hometown production.

After 18 years of Nutcracker performances, the Rochester City Ballet, under the direction of Artistic Director Jamey Leverett, felt it was time for a change. And by change, they mean entirely new and spectacular sets, scenery, and costumes. Leverett says it took 15 years of adjustments to the story and choreography to get RCB's Nutcracker exactly right. With the dancing this year expected to be better than ever, the major facelift will attempt to raise the quality of the production to match.

The improvements to the sets and costumes are part of a comprehensive renovation project, what Leverett calls a "three-year phase-in program," including the replacement of additional large props and new costumes over time. Audiences can expect additions to Nutcracker productions for two more years to come.

So what will audiences see this week? The sets for every scene will be new, from the house and party scene of Act I to the Act II "Land of the Sweets" backdrop, which is said to have "every delectable delight imaginable." And some costumes have already been replaced. New party gowns in the first act have a worldly theme, reflecting the cultures that are introduced in Act II's ethnic dances. RCB also commissioned an eye-popping eight-foot-tall Mother Ginger, who now releases tiny gingerbread from her skirt in place of clowns. Local artist Sylvia Hanlen designed the new sets and costumes.

More than 200 Rochesterians will perform in this year's production. Local aspiring dancers from 27 community dance studios will fulfill the children's roles. Sarah Lane, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) member, and Jill Marlow, Cincinnati Ballet member, will share the principal role of "Sugar Plum Fairy." Both women are former RCB members. Former ABT member and current RCB dancer Sari Ostrum will perform the role of "Dewdrop."

Leverett says she's excited to have former students returning to dance the lead roles. "It's great to know that we brought them up here," she says, "and they can come back and bring what they know to their home city."

Rochester City Ballet's Nutcracker promises to be a sensually extravagant event. Alongside the dancing and visual changes there is the musical virtuosity of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bach Children's Choir, which will sing at the end of the first act.

"Rochester can expect the best Nutcracker they have ever seen," Leverett says.

The Nutcracker Friday through Sunday, November 25 through 27 | Rochester City Ballet and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra | Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs Street, 2 and 7 p.m. | $24-$54 | 454-2100, www.rpo.org

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