Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Dancer Katherine Lawrence rehearses with Du Hai for her role as a Sugar Plum Fairy in Ballet West's production of "The Nutcracker."

Katherine Lawrence is new to Ballet West, and Annie Breneman has been a member of the company for seven years, but both dancers will debut in two roles in "The Nutcracker" beginning next weekend — the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Queen. And each has her own set of challenges.

"It is a challenge for me," said Lawrence, "because I'm not only trying to learn the Sugar Plum and Snow choreography, but I'm also learning the other roles that are part of the ballet. And I'm not familiar with this version of the ballet." Until last year, Lawrence was part of Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis, Ind.

For Breneman, the challenge is trying to make the roles her own. "I've watched the others do Sugar Plum and Snow, but it's different when you actually are working those roles on your own. I've never done some of the stuff in the pas de deux. So that's all really new to me. You don't get a feel for them until you start dancing them yourself."

The Sugar Plum Fairy is supposed to be full of grace and agility, and Breneman said with a laugh that it's something she's struggling with. "There is the promenade that needs to be seamless and effortless. But it's difficult to make it look easy. Other steps include the pirouettes and the partnering. I've been finding out that I just need to go for it, even when I'm not ready, because there really isn't any time to prepare for some of the steps."

Breneman said she finds the role of Snow to be the harder one. "There are a bunch of new lifts, like the helicopter lift, that still scares me. I was scared when I first saw it, and now that I'm doing it, it's really scary. I just have to trust my partner."

Lawrence said she has an easier time with Snow. "You get some time offstage to catch your breath. With Sugar Plum, the segment is longer. So it's hard on my stamina."

Lawrence and Breneman heard in September that they had landed the Sugar Plum and Snow roles. "That gave us time to stress," said Breneman. "But it also gave us time to prepare and watch videos of past performances."

Both said that when they think of the Sugar Plum Fairy, they think of all the young girls who want to be ballerinas. "It's so typical, but the role is every girl's dream," said Lawrence. "It's just something that a lot of girls dream about as children."

"It sounds cheesy," said Breneman. "But when you think of all the little girls who dream about being the Sugar Plum Fairy in 'The Nutcracker,' and you realize that you have been cast as the role, it's like, 'Whoa, I made it.' "

Ballet West has been performing Willam F. Christensen's version of "The Nutcracker" since 1955. And it has become a holiday tradition for the state of Utah. Still, Lawrence and Breneman don't feel any pressure about living up to past performances. Instead, they just want to add to the tradition.

"I'm hoping to give something of me to the role," said Lawrence. "I'm a little overwhelmed, though."

"The pressure I feel isn't from the outside, but the inside," said Breneman. "I'm not comparing myself with the others who have danced these roles before me. I want to perform the best I can."

If you go

What: "The Nutcracker," Ballet West

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South

When: Friday through Dec. 31

How much: $10-$60

Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787