| Dance |

The Nutcracker Returns Courtesy of Houston Ballet

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There's giant mice, a King Rat, toy soldiers that come to life, and Clara who seems a nice enough young girl whirled into a wild post-party night when magic and Tchaikovsky's music take over the evening's events. Yes it's time once again for Houston Ballet's annual offering of The Nutcracker.

Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Simon Ball has been doing The Nutcracker for 30 years now. Initially recruited by his-ballet-lessons-taking sister to fill out the ranks of little soldiers in the party scene, Ball says he discovered he loved the energy of the ballet. "And I made a career of it."

This year Ball will reprise his role as the Nutcracker Prince which means he's in Act 1 and II, pairing with the Snow Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy. "That's a definite challenge, but I do like that we have a character who appears throughout the ballet," he says. He will also dance the role of the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer who presents Clara with the doll in the first place.

Former Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson (now artistic director with the Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth) who choreographed the version used in Houston is coming back this year to see the production here, Ball says.

His first memories of The Nutcracker, Ball says, will always be with him, and remind him of how important this production is to many people. "It does make me remember that this is the first experience and maybe the only experience that young people have in ballet so you have to take it with that kind of seriousness that you are potentially setting someone's life off because they came to the ballet and loved it and are either life long ballet fans or they want to be a dancer yourself," he says.

And two of the youngsters in attendance will be his own two daughters, ages 4 and 8. "I'm looking forward to bringing my two daughters to the show and passing that on. I feel very lucky that they can see their daddy dance. You never imagine that when you begin ballet that oh maybe someday my kids will watch me dance."

Performances of The Nutcracker run November 28 through December 28. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and other weekdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. See houstonballet.org for complete listings. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Street. For information visit the ballet's website or call 713-227-2787. $35-$95.

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