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As the Scranton Civic Ballet Company completes preparations this week for the 25th annual performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Scranton Cultural Center, dancers and directors say that the ballet is as much a part of their own holiday traditions as it is for audiences that flock to see it.

“They look forward to it each year, just like you do,” said Scranton High School senior Maura McGowan, this year’s Dewdrop Fairy.

“It’s the best part of Christmas.”

That’s been the case since 1987, when the company first put on the famed ballet under Artistic Director Helen Gaus. Gaus, who formed the Scranton Civic Ballet Company in 1978, said the performance changes slightly each year.

“Every year, you have a new Sugar Plum Fairy, a new Snow Queen. I’m choreographing to that person’s abilities,” Gaus said.

Changes this year include a comedic pas de deux, or ballet duet, for the Chinese dance. Past interpretations have included traditional parasols and Chinese dragons, according to Gaus.

After 25 years, some things still remain constant including special effects that increase the size of a Christmas tree from 10 to 30 feet during the so-called nightmare scene and fresh snow falling from the sky during “The Waltz of the Snowflakes.”

Lighting is controlled by Rich Larsen, director of the University of Scranton’s theatre program, and costumes are made by Clarks Summit resident Helen Kasarda with additional touches added by Gaus herself. Kasarda has worked with the company since its foundation.

Snow Queen Jamie Doyle, another Scranton High senior, said the day between performances of “The Nutcracker” has served as a kick-off for her family’s holiday season for several years.

“That’s when the Christmas music starts in my house, after ‘Nutcracker,’” Doyle said. “That Saturday, I usually get my Christmas tree.”

For Scranton Prep senior Tori Sluko, this year’s performance also allows her to realize a lifelong ambition: performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“I love partnering with my partner, Luke (Kameroski), and it’s the only solo in ‘The Nutcracker.’ It’s been a dream of mine since I was 2. The choreography is just so beautiful,” said Sluko, a Scranton Civic Ballet student since age 4.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is what defines winter for me. It sets the ball rolling.”

If you go

WHAT: ‘The Nutcracker,’ presented by the Scranton Civic Ballet Company.

WHEN: Fri., Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m., and Sun., Dec. 11, 2 p.m.

WHERE: Scranton Cultural Center, 420 N. Washington Ave., Scranton.

COST: $14 and $17.

INFO: Scranton Cultural Center box office at 1-800-745-3000 or www.scrantonculturalcenter.org.

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