Dancers rehearse for their upcoming Nutcracker performance at the Palm Theatre. Back row, from left, Calista Hattler, Charlotte Welborn and Jula Cieciuch. Middle row, from left, Joe Galbo, Khyber Baer, Sabrina Goldberg and Shen Geldbaugh. Front row, from left, Tirsa Sante, Fiorella Coniglio and Skylar Borof. (Courtesy Photo)

What else elicits the feeling of Christmas more than “The Nutcracker?” On Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., 80 local dancers will gather on stage at the Palm Theatre to perform. The dancers, who are all a part of Palm Arts Dance School, range from age three to 18, with a couple of adults. The dancers have been practicing since mid-September to bring Tchaikovsky's iconic score to life. The production's artistic director, Nicole Hattler, loves every aspect of the production, but one piece sticks out in particular.

"I love all of it. There are pieces of the party scenes that you just love that melt your heart. But the snow scene is probably one of my favorite pieces of music and always has been. It's just ethereal … the scene, the snowflakes dancing, the snow falling. It's just beautiful," Hattler said.

There are always numerous performances of “The Nutcracker” every year, but Palm Arts Dance chooses to put on the show every three years or so. The last time they performed “The Nutcracker” was in 2018. Hattler explained that this is to give the dancers some variety.

In 2019, right before the pandemic, Palm Arts Dance put on “The Wizard of Oz.” In 2020, they filmed their performance of “Alice in Wonderland.” “The Nutcracker” marks the first live performance since 2018.

"The kids are so thrilled to be back and working towards a production that they can do on stage," Hattler said.

Hattler has performed almost every role in “The Nutcracker” at some point in her life. She believes that while the story and music remain the same each production is unique. She tells her dancers that there is always something new to learn and gain with each performance.

An example of the ever-changing production, compared to 2018, is that 2021 will feature an older Clara on pointe, as 14-year-old Fiorella Coniglio was cast as the show’s protagonist.

"The thing that excited me most about the role of Clara was being the lead for the first time and getting to be on stage the whole time, which also my least favorite part. My favorite part of working towards the show was seeing the parts of dances and scenes come together," she said.

Another new aspect to this year's production is the addition of locals performing the Sugar Plum pas de deux, which is a dance between the Sugar Plum Fairy (played by senior Shen Geldbaugh) and the Sugar Plum Cavalier (played by sophomore Joe Galbo). Typically, explained Hattler, they have to bring in outside dancers to perform for this dance because they do not have a guy to play the role of the Cavalier.

"We've certainly had female dancers that were technically good enough to do that role. We just have never had a partner for her, and we do now," Hattler said. Unlike the classic “Nutcracker Ballet,” the Palm Arts production incorporates most dance styles. The show will feature hip-hop, ballet, tap, modern, contemporary and jazz. For example, the Russian dancers will be played by jazz dancers, Hattler added.

When students sign up for the Palm Arts Dance School, they are automatically added as performers for the year's production. Every class in the program is showcased.

“The Nutcracker” was first performed on Dec. 18, 1892, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The first American performance was in San Francisco in 1944. Since then, it has become a Christmas staple throughout the country.

"Every performance, every company in every state is a little different," Hattler said. "I think that's what keeps it fresh and fun to watch. Because it's so classic, it's something that is very nostalgic for a lot of people. And we just thought it would be really fun to bring it back this year."

For tickets, visit