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'The Nutcracker' marks the holidays in Medford

Jake Roxander's day begins with weight lifting at a gym — training that boosts his strength so he can hold up ballerinas and toss them into the air.

A morning trip to the gym would give most people a sense of accomplishment for the whole day. But the weight training is just the start of six to eight hours of physical work ballet dancers put in daily to hone their craft.

From the gym, Jake Roxander heads to Studio Roxander, a ballet academy in downtown Medford founded by his parents, David and Elyse Roxander.

"You do get tired and think, 'I'm so sore! I just want to lay in bed.' But you get here and you remember why you do it," says the 14-year-old. "Nothing can stop you if you love it."

Years of work have prepared Jake Roxander for his role as a nutcracker toy that transforms into a prince in Studio Roxander's production of the classic Christmas ballet "The Nutcracker." He is paired with 14-year-old dancer Grace Hill, who plays Clara, a girl who joins the prince in a battle against evil mice, then journeys with him to a magical kingdom.

Performances are at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10; 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11; 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16; 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 and 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, at the Crater Performing Arts Center, 655 N. Third St., Central Point.

Tickets range from $14 to $20 for adults and $10 to $15 for children and senior citizens. To reserve tickets, call the Studio Roxander box office at 541-773-7272 or see www.studioroxander.com.

Many of Studio Roxander's students who aspire to be professional dancers are home-schooled so they can devote more time to dance. They spend their time practicing, working on their technique and rehearsing from morning into the evening. In between, they crack open their textbooks to study and do homework — often while stretching out on the floor.

Each ballet practice begins with dotting ointment or lotion onto battered feet, then applying moleskin and athletic tape. Most dancers have dealt with losing toenails.

Hill says she fell in love with ballet when she saw her older sister in a Studio Roxander production.

"I loved it so much and felt so connected," says Hill.

Her days at Studio Roxander stretch from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with schoolwork and meals taking up her breaks.

"It's pretty tiring by the end of the day, but it's really worth it," Hill says.

She says her favorite moves involve leg extensions that reveal her flexibility, as well as pirouettes and other spins.

David and Elyse Roxander launched the ballet academy in 2009 and staged their first "Nutcracker" ballet with students the following year.

David Roxander said the work the dancers have put in is paying off.

"This year, we have the strongest cast we've ever had," he says. "We've had a lot of the dancers who are playing principal characters with us for a long time. You really see the years and years and years of work."

Some dancers start as young as 2 or 3 years old.

While ballet requires extraordinary commitment, the Roxanders are also having fun with the production. They often tackle a unique and elaborate prop project each year.

For the 2016 production, David Roxander used Wonder Woman shields from a Halloween costume shop, cardboard, plywood, rivets and more to build a steampunk-style cannon for a battle scene. The steampunk aesthetic draws inspiration from science fiction and steam-powered machinery in the 1800s.

The fantastical cannon, plus costumes and scenery, will excite the imaginations of audience members who come to the ballet — including kids, David Roxander says.

"Children's imaginations are so big. Live theater needs to keep up," he says.

Kids who want to get an up-close look at the dancers and some of the props, including a sleigh and throne, can visit the "Kingdom of Sweets" after matinee performances Dec. 10, 11 and 17, at the Crater Performing Arts Center.

Entry is $10 and covers a child and adult chaperone. Dancers will sign autographs and take photos with visitors.

Grace Hill and Jake Roxander, both 14, dance the parts of Clara and her Nutcracker prince in Studio Roxander's production of 'The Nutcracker.' Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch