The Nutcrackers

Guests will have a chance to have photos with, and get autographs from, their favorite “Nutcracker” character and then enjoy a brief performance as well as a three-course tea.

When it comes to establishing tradition, Ahwatukee dance instructor Kimberly Lewis is no slouch.

The fact she’s preparing her 19th annual production of “Ahwatukee Nutcracker” proves that.

And within that tradition, she’s started others – notably the annual dinner she makes at her home for the queens who star that year.

This year, she hopes to start a new tradition – a tea at the Arizona Biltmore Resort with the 10 queens who will take the stage at Desert Vista High School on Dec. 15 and 16 for “Nutcracker.”

The 12:30 p.m. Nov. 25 tea – which will also include the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Clara – reflects a cherished memory that Lewis had always wanted to give a 21st century spin.

“As a little girl my mother would dress me up in a special holiday dress and take me to a tea party during the holiday season,” she said. “This was such special memory for me and I looked forward to this special event each holiday season. I wanted to recreate this special time for others, so I thought it would be special to tie in our Nutcracker and put together a tea party featuring our queens.

“I have always wanted to do a tea party featuring our ten Queens from the Ahwatukee Foothills Nutcracker Ballet where guests could come and meet all the queens – as well as Clara, the Mouse King and the Nutcracker – and to sit down and have a holiday Nutcracker Tea Party together with Queens dressed in their beautiful tutus.”

Though this is the maiden voyage for her new tradition, Lewis already envisions how it will unfold:

“My vision was for guest attending the tea party to walk into a beautiful ballroom and to be greeted by each queen dressed in their tutus. Each table in the room would be a magical color and decorated in honor of each queen.

“For example: The Snow Queen table would be a frosted white table with snowflakes and crystals. The Queen of Sweets table would be red and white candy cane and decorated in all sweets. The Sugarplum Fairy decorated in lavender colors filled with sugarplums. Each table decorated in honor of each queen – so when guest walked through the doors into the ballroom they would see a colorful, magical room with each table decorated to match each queen.”

She reached out to the Biltmore because it “is known for putting together a lovely traditional tea with a variety of teas, scones and finger sandwiches – exactly like the tea parties I enjoyed as a young girl with my mother.”

The rest, as they say, is now history.

The Biltmore decided it fit a calendar of events already chock-filled with holiday activities starting with Thanksgiving.

Guests will have a chance to have photos with, and get autographs from, their favorite “Nutcracker” character and then enjoy a brief performance as well as a three-course tea.

Lewis said this isn’t just for girls. “This is open to all ages, girls and boys,” she said. “This is a magical event for the entire family to enjoy.”

People can request to sit at a certain table, though it will be on a first come, first serve basis.

Lewis’ cast of several dozen kids ranging in age from 3 to 18 has been in rehearsal since mid-August, meeting for eight hours every Saturday and four more on Wednesdays.

The returning queens include: Avery Katharine, Sugarplum Fairy, 16 and a junior at Desert Vista; Bella Gregg, the Snow Queen, also a 16-year-old Desert Vista junior; Desert Vista junior Ally Nash, playing the Butterfly Queen; Ashleigh Griffin, a 16-year-old junior at Arizona College Prep who plays the Arabian Queen; and Hannah Sterling, an 18-year-old Desert Vista senior playing the Spanish Queen.

The five dancers performing their first queen role are Sara Allen, a 13-year-old Altadena Middle School eighth-grader playing the Marzipan Queen; Jayden Droz, also an Alatdena eighth-grader, playing the Queen of Sweets after starring as Clara two years ago; Natalie Sterling, a 13-year-old Altadena eighth-grader playing the Russian Queen after playing Clara last year; Morgan Eaton, a 16-year-old Corona del Sol High junior playing the China Queen; and Leah Goldstone, a 13-year-old Desert Vista freshman playing the Angel Queen.

During auditions, Lewis picks her queens with care, looking for “strong technical pointe dancers who have a magical stage presence.

“Dancers train throughout the year many hours to prepare for auditioning for a queen role,” she noted. “It is a dream for dancers to one day become a queen in our ‘Nutcracker.’”

That’s why she cooks a formal dinner in her home for those who make it, explaining they give up so much time and she wants to give them a special sign of her appreciation.

The tea is $85 for adults and $50 for children 5 to 8. Reservations: 602-954-2572.

There are still some tickets remaining for the 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. “Nutcracker” performances Dec. 15 and the 2 p.m. show Dec. 16. All tickets can be purchased online at afnutcracker.com/tickets.

Following both 2 p.m. performances, Santa Claus and  the cast members come out in costumes to take photographs and sign autographs. Audience members can also sit on Clara’s Throne with Clara in the Land of Sweets and take photos and while snow falls inside the theater.

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