For ballet student Natalie Lane, 10, of Cheektowaga, her few minutes on the stage tonight and Wednesday will be the highlight of her young career.
She is one of 60 ballet students from across Western New York who will be dancing with the Moscow Ballet in a performance of its Great Russian Nutcracker in Niagara Falls.
The dancers -- mostly girls, but some boys -- were chosen from about 200 youngsters from the Southtowns to Grand Island who auditioned before a Moscow Ballet principal earlier this fall. "There are a lot of Nutcrackers in the area at this time of the year, but this is the only professional troupe performing it," said Clare Fetto, director of the Festival School of Ballet in Buffalo and a former professional dancer. "This is an awesome experience for these young dancers."
Fetto has rehearsed the chosen dancers up to the time of this week's performances. During the ballet, she will be backstage, making sure all the costumes are on right and seeing that all goes smoothly.
"I'm a little nervous," admitted young Natalie Lane, "but mostly I'm thrilled to be a part of it again."
This will be Natalie's second year dancing with the renowned professionals. Her mother, Nancy; father, Hal; and her 13-year-old sister, Gina, who also is studying ballet, will be in audience.
Natalie was one of the local dancers chosen for last year's Nutcracker when the Moscow Ballet performed it in Buffalo -- as they have done for the past five years.
This is the first time the Moscow Ballet will perform in Niagara Falls. The performance begins at 7 each night in the Events Center of the Seneca Niagara Casino.
The youngest local performer is 8.
Jessica Martin, 14, also is looking forward to her seven minutes on stage, even though this will be her fifth year joining the troupe for the Christmas classic.
"It gets better every year," Jessica said. "It was really exciting the first time because I didn't know what to expect, but now I've settled in more, and I can broaden my experience. Ballet is not just dancing, it's acting, stage presence and reacting with your partner."
Her mother, Jeannette, and father, Donald, will be among the proud parents in the audience.
It's also the fifth consecutive year for Janis Connor, 16, of Buffalo.
"It's a great experience being on stage and backstage with these Russian dancers," she said. "They're amazing. It opens your eyes to the world of professional dance."