Magic and wonder. Parties and presents. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

Magic and wonder. Parties and presents. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

All the things that make the holiday season special are what make The Nutcracker, the classic holiday-season ballet, the perfect fit for this time of year.

There are a number of dance companies in central Ohio that produce The Nutcracker on an annual basis during the holiday season. Something about it keeps folks coming back year after year. Sure, the story of ballet takes place on Christmas Eve, but it's more than that.

"It's fantastical, at times even outlandish," BalletMet artistic director Gerard Charles, whose company has been performing the ballet annually since 1978, told ThisWeek. "It makes everyone become a child again."

"It's a family tradition," said artistic director Bob Cole of Central Ohio Youth Ballet, whose Nutcracker is in its 16th year. "It's got a story that people can follow but it also has a fairy, a prince, toy soldiers "

"It's familiar and recognized, and it's appropriate for children," New Albany Ballet Company owner and artistic director Tara Miller said. She said this is the third year for the ballet in New Albany, which is presented by the affiliate New Albany Children's Ballet Theatre.

"It's a classic ballet that involves children," said Sharon Daye, owner and director of Columbus Youth Ballet Academy, which will present its eighth annual Nutcracker this year.

That children are such an important part of the on-stage production - some of the local productions are done exclusively by dancers in their teens and younger - seems to add to the appeal.

Central Ohio Youth Ballet's Nutcracker features 50 children in a cast of about 60. Columbus Youth Ballet Academy features a cast of 50 in this year's show, primarily students. New Albany Ballet Company has approximately 190 young people in its show this year. BalletMet Columbus, which has a cast that includes dancers from its professional company and attendant dance academy, has 130 young dancers in its 2010 production.

"For us, it's very much the story of a child and the vision of her dream," Miller said. "And it's depicted by children."

"Having the children in the piece - they bring such a level of enthusiasm," Charles said.

"Even youngsters who've done (The Nutcracker) before still have that feel of excitement, thrill and wonder," Daryl Kamer, one of BalletMet's founders and still teaches in the dance academy, said.

Kamer maintained that the notion of a little girl dreaming of becoming a ballerina is far from pass. This was confirmed by young people who are part of the casts.

"This is my first time as Clara," Clintonville resident Maggie Prosser said. "I always wanted to be in the lead role in something, and this is my big chance."

Prosser is an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Ridgeview Middle School who will dance in her seventh Columbus Youth Ballet Company Nutcracker this year.

The New Albany Children's Ballet Theatre production will feature two Claras, both dancing the part for the first time.

"It's awesome," said Sari Schlonsky, a 12-year-old Columbus Academy sixth-grader and New Albany resident. "When the other girls are getting too old (to dance the part), you kind of feel more confident (at the audition)."

"All the costumes and dancing, the show's so magical, it's so much fun to be in," said Emilia Blank, a sixth-grader at New Albany Middle School.

"I always dreamed about being Clara, ever since I knew about The Nutcracker," said Morgan Sheehan of Powell, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Hyatts Middle School who has danced in four BalletMet productions of The Nutcracker. "You try out and you just cross your fingers for what you get. When I learned I got the role, I was ecstatic."

There are numerous other reasons that keep folks, both audiences and dancers, coming back to The Nutcracker year after year. Cole said the familiarity people have with Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet adds to the appeal.

Miller said that, despite the ballet's Christmas-time setting, "it's not really religious, it's not political.

"People love the story, people love the dancing and people love the children," Charles explained. "It's corny, but everything has really stood the test of time."

Central Ohio Youth Ballet will present The Nutcracker Friday, Nov. 26, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 27, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 28 at 2:30 p.m. at the Midland Theatre in Newark. Visit www.midlandtheatre.org for information. Columbus Youth Ballet Academy's production of The Nutcracker will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at the Thurber Theatre in Ohio State University's Drake Hall. Call (614) 433-0146 for tickets. New Albany Ballet Theatre presents The Nutcracker at the McCoy Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12. Tickets are available online at www.mccoycenter.org. BalletMet Columbus will present The Nutcracker Dec. 10-26 at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased through balletmet.org.