The trick, when presenting a beloved program, and an annual tradition no less, is to keep it familiar without being predictable.

The trick, when presenting a beloved program, and an annual tradition no less, is to keep it familiar without being predictable.

BalletMet Columbus has presented "The Nutcracker" at the holidays every year since 1974. The ballet itself is more than a century old. This current BalletMet production was set by former artistic director Gerard Charles in 2003.

Edwaard Liang, the company's current artistic director, said it's the human element that keeps it fresh.

"How our dancers rehearse, and how they explore the relationships and the characters is what makes every year brand new," Liang said. "Their artistry helps them reinvent their roles each time."

Some of the roles require greater interpretation. Herr Drosselmeyer, the family friend whose gift to Clara of a Nutcracker sends her on her thrilling adventure, is both magical and mysterious.

"He is obviously magical and has lots of tricks up his sleeve, but I think in the end he's a good guy," Liang said. "The whole adventure is something he created, a magical ride that also takes Clara on a journey to help her grow and learn. It's part of his master plan."