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NIAGARA FALLS Now beginning its 35th season, the Greater Niagara Ballet Company is preparing its 17th production of "The Nutcracker," which will open this week with a cast of 120.

About 200 volunteers, young and old, make the show possible, as ballet students from more than a dozen schools in Western New York and Southern Ontario come together to tell again the tale of toys that come to life.

"It's a real family affair, with many parent volunteers working alongside their own children who are in the show," said Beverley Ann Feder, who founded the ballet troupe in 1967 as the Niagara Civic Ballet Company. It got its new name when it became a not-for-profit organization three years ago.

Feder also operates the Feder School of Classical Ballet in Lewiston.

"This year's production of "Nutcracker' is dedicated to John Cappello, who is 80 years old and has played the grandfather for 17 years now," said H. William Feder, husband of the artistic director.

Feder recalled when then-Mayor E. Dent Lackey of Niagara Falls encouraged his wife to form a professional ballet company.

Her company presented "Nutcracker" in the old Native American Center in the Falls, then in the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center before moving the show to the Performing Arts Auditorium of the new Niagara Falls High School last year. This year's performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

"Every ballet student who tried out this year got a part," Beverley Feder said. "They're getting to play various characters, alongside the dancers. This is a good opportunity for young people to become exposed to ballet and to work not only with young dancers from this area but also with professionals from all over."

This year, two guest dancers from New York City will partner with the "Nutcracker" cast in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier.

Tobias Parsons, originally from New Zealand, currently is with the New York Theater Ballet, dancing under director Diana Byer in such classics as "Nutcracker" and "Cinderella." Steven Melendez is a scholarship student at New York City's Professional Children's School. He has appeared in "Sleeping Beauty" with the Kirov Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Julianna Takacs, 22, will return home to Lewiston from Brooklyn as principal dancer in the role of the Snow Queen. Takacs performed with the Greater Niagara Ballet Company for 14 seasons. As a child, she started in the role of Clara, the little girl who has a dream.

Takacs was just 4 years old when she began studying with Feder, who earned an advanced certificate in Lillishall, England, and is a fellow of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance in London. Takacs graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Purchase State College Conservatory of Dance in White Plains. She also holds an advanced certificate from the Imperial Society in London.

Takacs has performed with the National Ballet of Canada in its Artpark productions of "Taming the Shrew" and "Romeo and Juliet." She currently dances at various studios, including Dance Space in Manhattan and the Scarsdale Ballet School.

First produced in December 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the ballet, with music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice." The orchestral suite consists of eight numbers.