MORRIS – The curtain comes up to reveal an opulent room and children dance across the stage, playing before their family's Christmas party that evening. Soon, it is time to open gifts, and that is when a normal Christmas scene transforms into something very different.
On Sunday, students and staff from Forte Arts Center presented "The Nutcracker" for the first time, performing two shows at the Morris Community High School auditorium.
Pam Simpson, founder of the arts center and co-director of the performance, said it was something she and her team have wanted to do for a long time.
"It's a classic holiday tradition for many, many families," Simpson said. "This year we had the right time and it was the right time."
The show included 117 people, all with movement parts, Simpson said. The center held open auditions, but for anyone wanting one of the lead roles they had to have taken an intensive ballet course over the summer.
Some students in the show have been working for more than a decade in ballet and dance. Gianna Scorzo of Minooka has been dancing with Forte for 14 years, beginning when she was two.
"It takes a lot of time," she said. Scorzo played the Sugarplum Fairy in the show.
For a lot of the performers, it was the first time they would be performing in front of a crowd of people they know.
"I'm excited because I get to perform in front of friends and family for the first time in pointed shoes," said Madison Juricic of Minooka.
Also part of the performance were 12 adult students from the Forte special needs class. The ages of the participants ranged from 12 to 70.
"The Nutcracker" ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, which was adapted into a ballet with a score by Tchaikovsky in the 1890s. A young girl, Clara Stahlbaum, receives a gift of a nutcracker from her godfather, the eccentric magician Drosselmeyer, during a Christmas party.
As the night wears on, and the guests migrate out of the party and home again, Clara falls asleep and dreams of growing up, watching the nutcracker battle the Mouse Queen and her army, and traveling to the Land of Snowflakes and Kingdom of the Sweets.
"There's a lot of excitement going on," said Emily Mepham of Joliet, who played Drosselmeyer.
Ava Houston of Coal City played young Clara in the performance. At 12 years old, she's already a veteran and has performed in school musicals and Forte Arts Center performances. She said landing the role of Clara was a "happy surprise."
"It's been fun because of the experience and the people surrounding me," Houston said.
As she introduced the play to the audience, some of whom had begun standing in line at 10:15 a.m. for the noon show, she welcomed them as they made history in Grundy County.