One BalletMet dancer's journey from Clara to the Sugar Plum Fairy - and nearly every role in between

One BalletMet dancer's journey from Clara to the Sugar Plum Fairy - and nearly every role in between

Constants in a professional dancer's life: taut legs, physically grueling rehearsals and "The Nutcracker."

BalletMet's annual production of the two-act ballet about a little girl's holiday-inspired adventure set to a live performance of Tchaikovsky's iconic score is a Columbus tradition comparable only to OSU football.

Preparations for the troupe's performance begin as early as September - starting with auditioning and training the children in the show - and don't end until mid-February as loose ends are tied and final tasks, like making sure the 200 costume pieces are all accounted for, are completed.

Does it get old for professional dancers?

"It's worth it," said Carrie West, who has been with BalletMet for 14 seasons and performed in versions of "The Nutcracker" since she was 8 years old.

The benefits, West said, are sensible ("'The Nutcracker' is our money-maker.") and sensitive ("The kids get so excited about watching. You begin to feel a sense of responsibility to do a good job and make it beautiful for them.")

Each edition has its own personality, she added, especially behind the scenes.

The unusually high number of props in the ballet can generate a lot of funny stories for the dancers. West recalled a time during her years at Sacramento Ballet dancing as a candy cane. The choreography called for her to dance with a hula hoop, which was particularly uncooperative one year; it accidentally flew off the stage and she had to improvise and act like nothing happened until someone backstage inconspicuously rolled it back to her.

The weather that coincides with "The Nutcracker" also presents hurdles dancers must leap.

"Every two or three years a case of the flu will go around and the cast will be changing constantly," West said.

As for this year's BalletMet installment, in which the professionals dance different roles each night, West will be the Sugar Plum Fairy (which has the most classically difficult choreography, she said), Arabian, Snow Flower, Party Mom and the child-aged star Clara.

Dancing the role of a pre-teen girl isn't too much of a challenge, West said. Besides, she first danced as Clara en pointe in 1987.

"Every single person has a memory of 'The Nutcracker,' even if they've only been once," West said.

For dancers, those memories are many.