Imagine Ballet Theatre collection
Imagine Ballet's "Nutcracker" features Macall Bowden, center, as the Snow Queen, and other teenage dancers.

Three seasons ago, Imagine Ballet Theatre performed its original version of "The Nutcracker."

Artistic director Raymond Van Mason, a former Ballet West principal, said when he decided to do his version of the holiday ballet, he wanted to do it differently but also do it right.

"First, I didn't want to do one until I had money to do it," he said. "There were so many ideas I wanted to do with it, and I didn't have the money to produce it the way I wanted to produce it."

IBT's board of directors suggested Van Mason do "The Nutcracker" in order to raise money to make a better one.

"I resisted at first, because there are like 10 million 'Nutcrackers,' " Van Mason said with a laugh. "And there are a lot of versions that are 'recyclish' and derivative.

"If I'm going to go after one, I'm going to go after one that has a different voice than those."

Van Mason also wanted his dancers — there are 65 in all who range in age from 9 to 17 — to be able to dance multiple roles.

"In many other 'Nutcrackers,' if you dance 'Waltz of the Flowers,' that's all you do, but my kids dance the entire evening. Some of them have three, four or five parts, like it was when I was with Ballet West. And I think that's important for the development of my kids."

Van Mason also said that his version of the beloved holiday tale has been influenced by all the different versions he's seen during his career as a guest dancer in many companies throughout the country. He saw things that worked and things that didn't.

He wanted to tell the story in a different way.

One of the adjustments he did was to make Clara older.

"I did not like the idea of her just sitting there," he said. "I wanted her to dance."

"The Nutcracker," said Van Mason, is an important production because it introduces many people to classical ballet.

"It is a safe way for them to see (ballet)," he said. "It matters. And I think that those audiences should see it as freshly as possible."

By that, Van Mason means that his dancers must give it their all every night.

"They're not jaded by the fact that they have done 600 performances," he said. "The reality of the freshness is there. Often, I found when I was dancing for other companies, there were dancers who felt like since it was 'The Nutcracker,' it doesn't really matter (how well they danced).

"I never liked that attitude, because I was always under the impression that it might be somebody's first time seeing it. So you still have to give it your all, whether you want to or not. It really does matter."

Van Mason said guest Hua Zhang, formerly of Ballet West, will dance the title role.

"He is very good with the kids," he said. "We are lucky to be able to have him with us."

Van Mason said even though he had reservations to begin with, he had always wanted to do a version of "The Nutcracker."

"I have wanted to do one probably since the first day I stepped foot on stage when I was 8 with Ballet West," he said. "It's a lot of work. But it's rewarding to see the dancers achieve new things. And I want it to be a beautiful situation for people to see and enjoy, and I want that for my dancers, as well."

If you go…

What: "The Nutcracker," Imagine Ballet Theatre

Where: Peery's Egyptian Theater, 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden

When: Dec. 17-19 and 21, 7:30 p.m.; also Dec. 21, 2 p.m.

How much: $10-$25

Phone: 801-689-8700, 801-467-8499 or 800-888-8499

Web: www.peerysegyptiantheater.com or www.smithstix.com

e-mail: [email protected]