New England Academy of Dance and New England Dance Theater's production of "The Nutcracker" ballet, now in its 27th year, will be presented in three full-length performances at New Canaan High School on Friday, Nov. 30; Saturday, Dec. 1; and Sunday, Dec. 2.

This year's production features four New Canaan and Wilton seniors in leading roles.

Emilie Kushner ofNew Canaan, who started dancing at NEAD as a 3-year-old, stars as Big Clara.

Sarah Sprole of Wilton will be featured as the Snow Queen and Arabian Princess. Birna Gustafson will play lead mother in the party scene and one of the leading roles in Spanish, and Laura McLaughlin will dance Marzipan, snow corp and fairies.

Professional teacher and ballet dancer, Virginia Horne, will dance the principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy this year, along with guest artist Jesus Pacheco as her Cavalier.

Opulent sets and dazzling costumes serve as the backdrop to showcase the talent of the cast members, who bring these characters to life on stage. The show is comprised of more than 238 dancers from New Canaan and adjacent towns, including students from the New England Academy of Dance Dance Theater, 25 trained NEDT company members and professional dancers from New York City.

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"It is the most magical time of year and there is no better way to celebrate it than by performing in `The Nutcracker,'" said Severn Davies, a six-time performer.

The enthusiasm runs high among parents of NEAD students as well, many of whom will take the stage in the opening "party scene" in Act I. In addition, NEAD and NEDT will perform their interactive children's performance of "Act II" on Saturday, Dec. 1, in a benefit for the Parenting Skills Center of Stamford and Person-to-Person of Darien.

"The Nutcracker" is based on the book "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman. Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky wrote the music for the ballet during the early 1890s, near the end of his life.

Hoffman's original story was modified in order for it to be suitable for children. The first performance took place in Russia in 1892. The San Francisco Ballet performed the first American production in 1944.

Reserved seating is available for purchase online at Tickets can also be purchased at the door on the day of the performance. Adult tickets are $25, senior/student/child $15; children's show, $15 for adults and $10 for senior/student/child. All tickets sold at the door will incur an additional $5 fee, and only cash or check will be accepted. For information, call 203-972-3265.