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Moscow Ballet's Nutcracker will have Russian and Minnesotan flair

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Zoe Gorton rehearses for the Nutcracker ballet.
Zoe Gorton, 12, rehearses her snow maiden dance at Acclaim Studio of Dance in Austin for The Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.
Alex Kolyer / For MPR News

When the Moscow Ballet brings the "Great Russian Nutcracker" to Minnesota tonight, the famed company will bring the classic holiday tale to life with a lot of Russian flair.

  But in a show tonight at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester and three in Minneapolis on Saturday, the production also will include some Minnesota spirit. The production allows a couple dozen young local dancers to perform with the professional touring company, giving them a chance of a lifetime. The company selects different young dancers for each city.

  Among them is 16-year-old Mia Lindholm, of Austin, who has been on stage since she was two, dancing everything from ballet and tap to jazz and hip-hop.

  Lindholm has performed in the holiday classic twice, dancing side-by-side with professional Russian dancers. They last performed in Rochester in 2010.

Rehearsing their dances
Paige Lindholm-Sullivan, 15, and Haley Lenway, 16, rehearse their dances.
Alex Kolyer / For MPR News

  "I think it's pretty breathtaking," she said, noting that she has seen most of the production from backstage. "I've never been able to sit out and actually watch it, but from what I've heard from my family, they really, really like it."

  Through its program "Dance with Us," the Moscow Ballet works with ballet studios in the cities it tours. The company auditions young dancers and rehearses with them for several days before leaving the dancers to practice on their own for a few months before the performance.

  Lindholm and five other girls have spent that time running through their routine.

  During a recent dance lesson they practiced the Dove of Peace dance from the beginning of the production's second act. It features a creature that comes together with two professional dancers, each with one arm transformed into a long feathered wing.

  The girls scurried across the wooden floor as their instructor, Bridget Bellrichard, counted out their steps.

  The Moscow Ballet's Nutcracker tells the story of the girl who falls in love with her Nutcracker Prince on Christmas Eve. Instead of arriving in the "Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy," Masha and her Nutcracker Prince arrive in the "Land of Peace and Harmony," where all creatures, animal and human, live in harmony. 

  In tonight's Rochester performance, 26 young dancers — all girls from southern Minnesota — will join the touring group as snow maidens, battling mice, party kids and snowflakes.

Rehearsing to dance with the Moscow Ballet.
Some of the students at Acclaim Studio of Dance in Austin rehearse their parts for The Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker.
Alex Kolyer / For MPR News

  For 12-year-old Zoe Gorton of Albert Lea, auditioning in front of a Russian soloist earlier this year was an experience she won't soon forget.

  "It was pretty nerve-wracking in the beginning when she came in and she showed us once and then we had to do it, so it was pretty hard."

  Lindhold and 16-year-old Haley Lenway say the best part of performing with professional dancers is seeing them warm up backstage.

  "They are super flexible; they're like rubber bands," Lindhold said. "I mean, I would never think someone could bend like that. The first time I saw them I was like 'Oh, my God.' I thought they were going to break. It looks like they have no bones in their body."

Haley Lenway, 16, rehearses her dance.
Haley Lenway, 16, rehearses her dance for The Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker.
Alex Kolyer / For MPR News

  The young dancers pick up quickly on what it takes to dance professionally, said Bellrichard, school director of the Acclaim Studio of Dance.

  She expects many to be awe-struck when they see the dancers in their full costumes and makeup backstage tonight.

  "It really gives them an idea of what it's like to be in a professional dance company and they get an idea of 'Yeah, I really want to pursue this, and go like — this — this is awesome,'" Bellrichard said.

  The students may decide they love dance, she said, "but it's a lot of work."