After weeks of practice, about 55 area students will perform in the American Ballet Theatre's production of "The Nutcracker" starting Thursday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Students from the American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School at the Segerstrom Center will join a cast of professional dancers such as Misty Copeland, ABT's first African American principal dancer.
Tais Vinolo, a student at the Gillespie School, said participating in the production for a second time has helped her enjoy rehearsals for the shows.
The 14-year-old, who is originally from France and now lives in Costa Mesa, performs as a soldier in a battle scene and wears a tall black and gold hat.
Tais said she always dreamed of moving to Los Angeles and pursuing a career with the American Ballet Theatre.
"I'm more confident and excited this year and less nervous," she said between rehearsals this week.
Alaine Haubert, principal of the Gillespie School, said there wouldn't be a "Nutcracker" performance without the students who auditioned for the production.
"The students of the ABT Gillespie School are receiving pre-professional training, which means they are not only fine-tuning technical skill but also are aware that they are learning an art form where their creativity is encouraged," Haubert said.
Ava McLarand of Newport Beach — a Gillespie student and a polichinelle, or clown, in the show — said rehearsing with the professional dancers is an unreal experience.
"That may be me up there one day, living like one of them," said Ava, 15.
This is her third time participating in "The Nutcracker."
Her brother Owen, 11, who plays a mouse, said his favorite part is playing with props.
"The Nutcracker" runs Thursday through Dec. 17 at the Segerstrom Center, 600 Town Center Drive. For more information, call (714) 556-2787 or visit scfta.org.