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'The Nutcracker' bigger and more dazzling this year

Christmas is a magical season, and nothing casts a spell like “The Nutcracker” ballet.

This holiday classic with dancing dolls, marching toy soldiers, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the enchanted nutcracker-turned-prince has held audiences spellbound for more than a century, since it premiered in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Choreographed by David and Elyse Roxander, this year’s Studio Roxander production of the Christmas fantasy is the eighth annual for the Medford ballet school. And, like the Christmas tree in the story's Silberhaus home, the company’s presentation grows bigger and more dazzling every year, says Elyse Roxander.

Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s memorable music score and story, seen through the eyes of a child, give “The Nutcracker” its nostalgic charm, she says.

Studio Roxander’s Academy of Ballet will present the full-length version of the Nutcracker and his fierce battle against the Mouse King at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9-10, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 15-16, and 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 9-10 and Dec. 16-17 at Crater Performing Arts Center, 655 N. Third St., Central Point. Tickets are $14, $16 or $20, $10, $12 or $16 for seniors and children. Kids can have photographs taken with their favorite characters after each matinee at the Kingdom of the Sweets. Tickets for the photos are $10 per child. Tickets are available at the box office, 101 E. 10th St., Medford, by calling 541-773-7272 or at studioroxander.com.

After the battle, Nutcracker whisks young Clara — and audiences — away to a land of magical dolls, flurries of snowflakes and visions of sugarplums.

"Holding dear the fond memories of Christmases past, the production company goes the extra yard to create an enchanting, festive holiday atmosphere," Roxander says. ”Families just love it. The music is recognizable and adored, especially the famous ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and ‘March,’ as well as the ubiquitous ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.' "

Since the 1960s, “The Nutcracker” has enjoyed enormous popularity and is performed throughout North America during the Christmas season.

San Francisco Bay area transplants, the Roxanders performed in “The Nutcracker” as young dancers, but never produced the ballet during 20 years of teaching.

“It seemed redundant,” Roxander says, alluding to the fact that there were already several companies performing the ballet.

After they opened their Academy of Ballet in 2009 in downtown Medford, the couple made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tackle the choreography and stage “The Nutcracker” in 2010. The Roxanders’ production has become a showcase for their students since.

"Performed by dancers ranging in age from child to young adult, the production is on par with professional troupes," Roxander says. "The dancing, the special effects. It's all very theatrical."

This year, the two young principal dancers in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform the demanding grand pas deux in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” she says. "Many ballet schools have to hire guest performers” for the scene. It’s pretty impressive that they can hold their own.”

A number of special effects have been added to this year’s production, including a canon for the battle scene and an Arabian dance. Also, Roxander promises a secret, closely guarded surprise by Father Christmas.

The cast includes 15-year-old Jake Roxander in the role of the Nutcracker and 15-year-old Grace Hill as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

"The two leads are young and don’t have much experience outside our local dance scene,” Roxander says. “However, they have both won awards at the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition.”

Jake Roxander won the Grand Prix award in 2016 and 2017. He and Hill placed second in the pas de deux competition earlier this year. The pas de deux they performed was from “The Nutcracker.” Hill also placed in the top 12 in the classical category and second place in the contemporary portion of the competition.

LeeAnn Hankins, 13, plays the heroine Clara. Other featured roles are performed by Alex Marshall, 17; Peyton Ray, 16; Isabella Jaffe Stafford, 14; Mary Hart, 24, and Lanney Therault, 15.

David Roxander plays the Mouse King and the toymaker Herr Drosselmeyer, and Elyse Roxander is Mrs. Silberhaus (Clara’s mother) and Mother Gigoine. Matthew Reynolds, director of dance and drama at Crater Renaissance Academy, plays Mr. Silberhaus (Clara’s father).

Younger dancers have their moment to shine as reindeer, snowballs and in other supporting roles.

"We want to give opportunity for all the dancers to learn and grow in this amazing art form,” Elyse Roxander says.

Grace Hill plays the Sugar Plum Fairy, Jake Roxander the Nutcracker and LeeAnn Hankins plays Clara in Studio Roxander's production of 'The Nutcracker.' [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]