RALEIGH — Christmas season and “The Nutcracker” go hand in hand as tens of thousands of Triangle ticketholders can attest each year.
Without fail, people line up to buy tickets to see the ballet, which has become a holiday tradition around the world. It hasn’t gotten old yet for the Carolina Ballet, which has put on “The Nutcracker” in front of packed audiences since 2001.
“The New York City Ballet has put on ‘The Nutcracker’ for 50 years because there’s always a new generation that wants to see it,” said Robert Weiss, artistic director for the Carolina Ballet, on Saturday. “It’s a tradition to go see ‘The Nutcracker’ at Christmas. It introduces people to ballet, and hopefully they’ll come back to us and see other things.”
The Carolina Ballet is putting on 22 performances of “The Nutcracker” this season, the final three taking place Sunday at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and next weekend at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
It’s a major moneymaker for the Carolina Ballet, accounting for around one-third of the overall ticket sales each year. Elizabeth Parker, Weiss’ assistant, said revenue from “The Nutcracker” allows the company to put more resources into other shows.
“The Nutcracker” inspires loyalty among those who watch and perform the beloved tale.
Elizabeth Craft made the three-hour drive from Cape Carteret to see Saturday’s matinee performance with her two young children and her mother. Craft, 35, has seen the ballet every year since she was 3 years old.
“It’s just such as great tradition,” Craft said. “It always seems different. There’s always some new detail you see.”
Weiss said one way they keep “The Nutcracker” fresh is to see where they can make improvements. Last year, the show was revised when Weiss teamed up with a professional magician to enhance the illusions.
Behind the scenes, it’s months of grueling practice with a cast of more than 100 for each performance, including local children who audition for spots. More than 130 children are chosen each year and are split into two groups to each perform half the shows.
It’s a major commitment for the children who are selected. Parker said parents are asked to make “The Nutcracker” the No. 1 priority for their children. Even when they’re not performing, the children are on call and must be within 30 minutes of a performance in case they’re needed to fill in.
Phyllis Mook’s children have performed in “The Nutcracker” every year since 2005, including last year when all five had parts. The Apex mother has lost track of all the shows she’s been at either watching in the audience or volunteering backstage.
“They will never get tired of it,” Mook said. “They love the friendships they make over the course of the season. It’s now part of our holiday season.”
Carmen Felder, 25, of Cary was one of those children in 2001 when she was chosen to play in the Carolina Ballet’s first season of “The Nutcracker.” Now she’s come full circle as a paid member of the company performing in the ballet.
“It does get to the point where you do it so much that you wonder why,” Felder said. “But when you see the look on a kid’s face when they see it the first time, it makes it all worth it.”