Start season with 'The Nutcracker'

Holiday classic gets treatment from three area dance troupes

Salt Creek Ballet dancer Ella Backus has an inkling why "The Nutcracker" has become a mainstay production of the holiday season.

"It captures the way Christmas feels on the stage," said the Hinsdale Central senior and Clarendon Hills resident.

Backus and fellow Central senior Olivia Costello will inhabit the role of Clara in the company's staging of the classic ballet Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 26-27, in the Hinsdale Central auditorium, 5500 S. Grant St.

Costello, also of Clarendon Hills, recalled being dazzled by the show when she was cast as a Bon Bon in her preschool years.

"All the costumes were so pretty and I remember just looking up to the older girls," she recounted.

"I used to try to memorize the older girls' roles," Backus added. Both started ballet at age 3.

Now they are the objects of emulation, depicting the young girl in dreamland who joins with the title character to fight the Rat King.

"The senior year Nutcracker is the biggest deal," said Backus of the pinnacle part.

For Costello is will be her second turn in the role.

"You have to mentally prepare, you have to physically prepare," she remarked.

They got into the rigorous rehearsals in September after returning from a summer intensive with the Boston Ballet.

"We have our classes that we train in every day. Then when Nutcracker comes it's added on, so it's like extra time," Backus said.

Salt Creek Artistic Director Erica De La O said the company's veteran leadership has been invaluable.

"I'm proud of all of the girls, and I'm proud of the seniors for all of their work," she said. "If you're a (Salt Creek Ballet) graduate, you understand grit. You understand work ethic."

Climbing the cast ranks from party girl to lead part helps fuel the motivation, Backus related

"Every year you get to do something new or something more progressive," she said.

Not to mention the connection with the audience.

"I feel so happy on stage, and we give that energy to the audience," Costello said.

The pandemic exposed that truth for Backus.

"I didn't even realize how much impact the audience had on me when I was dancing until I lost it for that year," she said.

Both hope to take their performance skills to the next level in college.

Shows are at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $42-$50. Santa will drop by on Saturday for pictures. The Nutcracker Boutique with themed holiday decor and ornaments will also be open. Visit

The Nutcracker will engage and entertain even non-ballet enthusiasts, Backus asserted. Expect your spirit to be lifted, Costello advised.

"There's so much joy all around," she said.

HDA marks a decade

Hinsdale Dance Academy is celebrating a milestone this holiday season as the troupe presents its 10th anniversary production of "The Nutcracker" with four shows this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20, at St. Francis Prep School in Wheaton.

Academy founder Jennifer Grapes said the years have flown by.

"It's hard to believe that we've been doing this for a decade now. It's also exciting that we've built this following and we are the western suburbs' holiday kickoff," said Grapes, citing the show's pre-Thanksgiving timing.

Joining the production will be professional dancers from the Albany Berkshire Ballet and three male members of the Minnesota Ballet.

"It's wonderful to have them," she said. "I always like to hire in professional men for the girls to dance with because they know what they're doing. Two of the dancers I've known for 20 years."

Grapes reflected on the drive-in version the troupe staged during the pandemic and is thankful those days seem to be in the rearview mirror so in-person audiences can appreciate the enchanting sets, vibrant costumes and dazzling choreography. She said there is something for all to enjoy, ballet enthusiast or not.

"I like to create relatable productions and messages that people can relate to within their own lives," she said. "It's a very immersive experience from the minute you walk into the (arts center) with the decor and music playing."

A Nutcracker boutique and cocktail bar offer additional attractions.

"I want people to say, 'We don't need to go into the city for the show. This is just as good," Grapes said.

The fact that all four shows are already sold out speaks volumes.

"I think after 10 years we've kind of established ourselves," she said.

WSB offers fun for all ages

West Suburban Ballet Conservatory will host The Nutcracker Suite for children and adults from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 at The Community House, 415 W. Eight St.. Hinsdale

Adults can enjoy drinks and holiday treats in a festive atmosphere, while children enjoy Nutcracker-themed activities and craft a costume piece to wear later onstage performing alongside conservatory ballerinas.

The ballet company will perform "The Nutcracker" at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, and at 1 p.m. Saturday Dec. 17, at Nazareth Academy, 1209 Ogden Ave., LaGrange Park.

Visit for tickets and more information.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean