On the evening of Nov. 20, a group of young ballet dancers gathers in the parking lot of a dark warehouse on Desert Inn Road, sandwiched between a strip club and Interstate 15.
The group enters the building via the loading ramp in the rear and passes through large black curtains, where the rest of the group sits on the floor in front of a 35-foot-tall Victorian-era dollhouse, as if the curtains act as some portal to a holiday dreamscape.
The warehouse is Blue Line Studios, a company that fabricates sets for productions such as "Phantom of the Opera," but on this evening, the nearly completed set for the Nevada Ballet Theatre company's upcoming production of "The Nutcracker" takes up almost the entire space.
The company is in the midst of preparations for its annual production of "The Nutcracker," and, according to artistic director James Canfield, this is your grandfather's "Nutcracker."
This is Canfield's fifth time choreographing the ballet, and it is the closest to the original story he has ever seen, he said.
"I tried to remain as close to the traditional story as possible to create a cohesive concept from beginning to end," Canfield said.
The company is scheduled to perform the ballet for the first time in The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, 361 Symphony Park Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15.
The cast, made up of 30 professional dancers and more than 120 children, will take the stage with a full orchestra, and while many renditions of the classic follow a cookie-cutter pattern with canned music, Canfield's version has been a refreshing change of pace for the performers.
"A lot of (productions of 'The Nutcracker') are done in a way that tells only half of the story," said Grigori Arakelyan, a seven-season veteran of the company in his sixth production of "The Nutcracker." "(Canfield) incorporates little details of the story, like why this happens or why that happens."
It is this attention to detail and authenticity that Arakelyan said has been the most exciting for the cast and crew.
"For us, it's new. It is very refreshing. It makes sense," he said.
The $2 million production boasts an impressive set with a larger-than-life, three-story dollhouse complete with a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree, a set Canfield is excited to show off.
"I wanted to get away from the conventional idea of scenery, with set pieces flying on and off stage," he said. "No kids are going to be fooled by that."
The massive set, constructed at Blue Line Studios, poses a unique challenge for the cast of dancers, according to Sarah Fuhrman, a professional dancer slated to play Clara.
"The sets are so intricate that we can't just choreograph in the studio like we usually do," she said, while motioning to the group of dancers huddled in the corner of the warehouse before the start of the evening's rehearsal. "We're creating from scratch, and we're all learning something new."
The majority of the cast and crew have put in 50 hours of work a week for months rehearsing, Fuhrman said. Aside from rehearsing for her own part, Fuhrman also helps choreograph the children appearing in the show, twice a week.
"I feel lucky," she said. "Not very many people get to do what they love."
Some cast members work part-time jobs in addition to the rehearsal schedule, Fuhrman said.
Nearly half of the company's members are new this season, according to Arakelyan, a fact that speaks to the ever-changing nature of professional ballet. Arakelyan, who will play the Nutcracker and the Prince, views the new faces as a positive.
"The new dancers have brought the company up," he said. "You see how other people work. They bring a new way of looking at things."
Always up for a challenge, Canfield said the rehearsal process has been a learning experience for himself as much as it has been for the performers.
"No matter what is in your head, it always changes," he said. "Some of my most memorable times as a dancer came working with the choreographer."
Canfield added that he has encouraged the cast members to give their creative input throughout the process.
"I throw stuff in to get moving and work with that," he said. "As we progress, we start to throw stuff out and edit."
After more than 200 hours of rehearsals, Nevada Ballet Theatre spokeswoman Jenn Kratochwill said the company is thrilled to be performing for its community in the new space.
"Everyone is so excited about performing in The Smith Center," she said. "It really elevates the productions, and I think people will see that."
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at email@example.com or 702-383-0492.