When Judith Svalander’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” first opened on the Woodstock Opera House stage, she worried about selling enough tickets to pay off the cost of the set.
“I was like, ‘If I could go three years, we could pay for all of this,’ ” she remembered.
It’s been 25 years, and she’s pretty much sold out the show annually.
For many, seeing the Judith Svalander Dance Theatre’s classic version of “The Nutcracker Ballet,” or other versions throughout the Chicago area, is like putting up a Christmas tree during the holidays.
“It’s become such a tradition,” Svalander said. “People, they just are seeking out the warmth of these things to do every year.”
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Svalander’s “Nutcracker” returns for a Dec. 9 through 17 run on the Opera House stage. Joining Svalander will be that same set – refurbished to look “brighter and better” – along with many of the same performers and crew and that same holiday spirit Svalander had when the production first began.
With her Crystal Lake-based School of Ballet, www.svalandersschool.org, also celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, Svalander, who danced in “The Nutcracker” herself throughout the country during the 1960s, is filled with pride.
Many of her dancers have gone on to become professional dancers, with at least 25 of them dancing in versions of “The Nutcracker” throughout the country this holiday season.
“I just love it, and I just love seeing young people realize their dreams. … It’s exciting to think that Crystal Lake, McHenry County, is producing dancers on a scale like this,” she said. “I just am really thrilled about that. It’s what makes me excited to keep doing it and not want to stop after 45 years. I’ll probably be carried away eventually, but I hope not.”
That set designed 25 years ago always has remained an inspiration behind Svalander’s production. It was modeled after decorative Easter eggs containing layers of pictures inside. There’s a depth created on the stage.
“I think it’s very unique,” Svalander said of the Opera House stage. “If you’re doing a traditional ‘Nutcracker’ dating to the 1800s, which is what we do, you are now in a theater from the 1800s.”
Among those who’ve been involved for the past 25 years are this year’s guest artist Tony Flanagan, now of Chicago, who used to dance in the production as a child and has performed roles ranging from “Party Child” to Prince to the Sugar Plum Cavalier; Laura Bobowski of Woodstock, playing the roles of Grandmother and Mother Ginger; and Tim Lawrence of Crystal Lake as Clara’s Grandfather.
Numerous others have performed and helped behind the scenes all 25 years, including the production’s assistant director Julie Fiore Hirsch of McHenry, who has performed almost every role since the production’s beginning.
The Judith Svalander Dance Theatre will bring Tchaikovsky’s world-renowned music to life at 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16, 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17 and 7 p.m. Dec. 15. Tickets for the production cost $25 for adults and $18 students. For tickets and information, call 815-338-5300 or visit www.woodstockoperahouse.com.