In Search Of…The Nutcracker

The La Crosse Dance Centre brings this holiday favorite to life


You don’t have to be a ballet lover to recognize the songs popular songs of the The Nutcracker. The story of the Nutcracker is holiday tradition shared by people all over the world – and since 1989 it’s been a tradition right here at home.

Nikki Balsamo is the current director of the La Crosse Dance Centre show and has been involved in the production from the start. And even after 24 years still finds magic in the story.

“Every year I fall in love with it a little more,” Balsamo said. “There’s a girl named Maria. And she receives a nutcracker doll from her uncle. He weaves into the doll a magical dream for her. And the nutcracker comes to life as well as some evil mice and rats. The nutcracker comes to help Maria but actually she ends up conquering the rat queen and freeing the nutcracker from a doll to human form.”

Stepping into the lead role of Maria for the second straight year is Central High School senior Katherine Burelbach. “I remember the first time I wanted to be Maria. I was in the battle scene as a battle soldier. I saw the Maria and she needs to catch a sword and she couldn’t catch it and I was like ‘I can catch that sword!’ And I was determined.”

Katherine is one of only four girls to repeat the starring role. “So that’s a really unique and fun thing that she’s doing the role twice.”

But there is also a first happening this season. Aquinas senior John Divney is the first ever high school student to tackle the challenging role of the nutcracker. “We’ve always either brought in a professional or had a college student,” says Balsamo.

“It was a far fetched dream for me,” says Divney. “It was one of those things I knew I would have to work really hard for. It was about 2 years ago that I knew it could be a reality and I worked even harder and here I am.”

There are 90 cast members from the community ranging in age from 4 to adults.
And there’s truly something in the story for everyone. “My favorite part still to this day is the battle scene,” says Divney.  “Just cause I loved the soldiers and the danger when you think the rats are going to win and this figure comes out and saves the day.”

Burelbach adds, “It’s like a tradition and it just brings the Christmas spirit to La Crosse.”

For Balsamo, the magic comes down to one thing. “It’s joyful. That’s the essence of the nutcracker ballet is joy and dreams and celebrating. That’s a wonderful thing to have in a community the size of La Crosse. That’s just a wonderful tradition to have.”