"The Nutcracker" is often the usual Christmas classic, but locals know another story: "The Snow Queen."
California Contemporary Ballet will perform Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of good prevailing over evil Dec. 17 to 19. The story tells of two best friends, Gerta and Kai, and Gerta's path to reach Kai after the Snow Queen places him under an evil spell.
"The Snow Queen" features a cast of 60 performers in a mix of classical ballet and contemporary dance. Dancers also take flight through aerial ballet.
Artistic director Erin Holt created original choreography for the fable 13 years ago, beginning with only the rhythms and melodies created by composer Randall Michael Tobin of Burbank. She makes minor adjustments each year, as her ballet transformed from an original youth ballet to a professional company tradition.
"For me, the reward is seeing all the dancers produce the story and seeing my choreography and how they interpret it," Holt said.
Holt enhanced the Snow Queen role to have forest creatures as her pets and embellished choreography.
"This year I'm putting my stamp on the role," she said. "Audiences will see a more contemporary and edgier Snow Queen."
Fans of the show return every year and travel from other states to see the custom costumes and vibrant lighting, she said.
"I think the story is the biggest reason," Holt said. "It's a really wonderful wintertime tale, but Hans Christian Andersen has a lot of metaphors that he relates to life. I think that when people see 'The Snow Queen' that they leave thinking that of course there is good and bad in the world, but those things can be overcome, and good can prevail."
Holt finds various talent to place in specific roles and styles, she said.
"My dancers are awesome," Holt said. "They are very hard-working. They love to dance, tell a story and are very artistic. I can't say enough about my cast."
One dancer, La Cañada Flintridge resident Kelsey Glidewell, 17, will perform as Gerda, a principal character who perseveres to save her friend Kai. She has performed in "The Snow Queen" for the past 11 years.
"I love the story line, and I love the people in it," Kelsey said. "I've been in it for so long, so I've gotten used to everything."
Glendale resident Kayla Stephanian will dance in a solo piece as the guardian angel.
"The performance has a lot of emotion and tells a story really well," Kayla said. "It's just really different."
This is the ninth performance for the 16-year-old, who will also play a creature, river, flower and servant.
"Since we do it every year and people love it, it's a tradition," Kayla said. "We do it every year, and it gets better and better every year. [There are] some changes, but for the good."
Isabella Bunting is a 12-year-old Glendale resident and youth company member who plays a doe in her first principal role.
"I love the energy," Isabella said. "The music is very Christmas-like, and I like partnering. It's a Pas de Deux dance, and it's just a very happy role. There are no real sad or scary parts in the show, but there's a lot of happiness."
James Keene has danced for 20 years and directs the modern, Earthwalk Dance Company. Keene's roles in "The Snow Queen" include a flying gyspy in the aerial scene, a panther and a towns person. He came to California Contemporary Ballet because he is fascinated by "The Snow Queen" and heard about the show through friends.
"California Contemporary Ballet, I believe, has made a tradition out of the Snow Queen but it's not your typical Christmas, Nutcracker ballet," Keene said. "It's a contemporary ballet and it has a lot of different genres mixed in so it's not the classic, it is its own classic in its own right. What Erin has done with it is taken a very beautiful tale and put kind of a performance edge on it."
The Christmas-time fable characters include earth mother, a prince and princess, mother, crow, townspeople, gypsies, panthers and wolves.
"It's a very telling story, and it's very beautifully done," Keene said. "I describe it as a very contemporary, holiday tradition. You're not going to see Christmas trees, you're not going to see Santa Claus, but you are going to have a sense of magic and fairy tale entertainment."
What: California Contemporary Ballet's 13th annual "The Snow Queen"
When: 7:30 Dec. 17; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18; and 2 p.m. Dec. 19
Where: Glendale Community College's Performing Arts Theater, 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale
Cost: $25 for adults and $20 for students in advance and $30 for adults and $25 for students at the door
Contact: visit http://www.snowqueenballet.com or http://www.ccballet.net