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Bryan J. Smith, Only in Ogden
Phoebe Rust is Clara and Corbin Schmidt is the Nut Prince in Imagine Ballet Theatre's "The Nutcracker" ballet.

OGDEN — Raymond Van Mason is interested in providing opportunities for the serious dancer and those who play pivotal roles in bringing productions to life on stage. He's created Imagine Ballet Theatre in Ogden in an effort to do just that.

On Saturday, Dec. 22, he's dedicating the matinee performance of the company's "The Nutcracker" to the family of Emilie Parker, one of the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. (Two of her cousins are in the show.)

"The Nutcracker" is just one of the full-length ballet shows Imagine Ballet Theatre puts on during the year.

Van Mason, a former principal dancer for Ballet West, oversees the production of an average of 24 shows a year plus performances for schoolchildren.

Dancers who are no longer children but not yet adults perform the classic, coveted roles.

"I wanted there to be a place for the older young dancers, dancers who are serious about dance (as a profession)," Van Mason said.

Van Mason founded the nonprofit organization in 2004 and currently has 75 dancers in his school, 40 in his ballet company. (The theater depends on ticket sales and grants to pay the bills.)

He has graduates of the program in the Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma and in the Nashville Ballet in Tennessee.

He has students as young as 3 in his classes, but no one is just taking the classes for fun. He demands his students be dedicated.

"They have to get going young if they're going to make dance a career," Van Mason said.

Teachers include former students of Van Mason's and guest artists, but Van Mason is directly involved in every class.

Productions include a full-length rendition of "The Secret Garden," "Alice in Wonderland," "Fairy Doll" and "Peter and the Wolf," all danced to a live orchestra with precision and professional flair.

"This is not casual dance. I'm pushing a higher level of performance," Van Mason said. "A lot of my girls are working 25-27 hours a week (in their ballet classes), in addition to their school."

If you go:

What: "The Nutcracker" ballet show

When: Friday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 22, at 2 p.m.

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

Cost: $12-$25

Tickets available from SmithTix, 801-689-8700

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com