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In Love With <i>The Nutcracker</i>

Where does love of the Christmas ballet The Nutcrackerbegin?

CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitney reports that, for dancer Kat Wildish it began in infancy. Her father played the French horn, and at Christmas time, he played Tchaikovsky's magical Nutracker score.

"I can remember in my crib growing up with the sound of the Waltz of the Flowers and the French horn," she recalled in an interview with CBS Radio News.

Since then she has done more than a thousand performances of the century old holiday classic with companies large and small around the country.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

When Mikhail Baryshnikov asked her to join the American Ballet Theater, "we traveled the Nutcracker my first year. We went out to L.A. and Chicago, and we did a Nutcracker tour, so I got to do Baryshnikov's version."

And George Balanchine's version, too, as a member of the New York City Ballet while he was still running the company.

With smaller companies, Wildish realized her childhood dream of dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, ruler of the Land of Sweets.

"Its an honor to be able to do that part," she declares. "Always, always I wanted to be the Sugar Plum Fairy."

Wildish also coaches dancers in all the Nutcracker roles. But says she especially loves preparing the dancers who dream — as she did — of dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

A production in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., this year.

For more than a century, The Nutcracker, the Christmas ballet set to the music of Tchaikovsky, has been adding its own special measure of joy to the holiday season.

First performed in 1892 at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, it was not presented in London until 1934 and in the U.S. until 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet. It's based on Alexandre Dumas' French adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

Wildish is one of those who is working to insure the tradition goes on.

"If you get a chance to see it, wherever you are, just go and see it," she says. "I just love all of the music, and I always sit backstage and watcall of the young dancers. It's really my favorite ballet to do."

She says the ballet is perfect for the holidays because it gets everybody involved.

New Mexico dance students Saphire Jaquez, 12, Lizzie Prather, 15, and Jourdan Brown, 11, try on their toy soldier hats while preparing backstage.

"I find parents and the volunteers backstage just really enjoy all the scrambling and getting the costumes and changing them quickly and watching out for the sets and people running around."

Wildish danced her first Nutcracker role when she was eight years old.

"It was just being a party child in the first act, and then as I got to be older, I got to be a merlaton or a snowflake or the Waltz Of The Flowers."

More than one thousand Nutcracker performances later, Wildish says it is still her favorite ballet because of the joy it brings to those who watch it and those who take part in it.

"I am older now, and I'm so honored each and every time that a company invites me to come and be the Sugar Plum Fairy." she says.

So when does it end, this love of The Nutcracker ballet? It doesn't. It just continues.

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