The holiday season takes full hold at the Midland Theatre this weekend with the presentation of "The Nutcracker" by the Central Ohio Youth Ballet.

The company, which brings young dancers from five counties and numerous dance schools, marks its 16th consecutive year of presenting the classic Tchaikovsky ballet in 2010.

"It's a family tradition," said Bob Cole, COYB artistic director. The production lasts about 90 minutes "to keep it family-friendly," he said.

This year the ballet features 50 young dancers in a cast of about 60-65. Auditions were held at the end of August and rehearsals have been held two days a week since.

"It's amazing what these kids can do in such a small amount of time," Cole said.

The cast is particularly heavy with Licking County talent this year, including Kennedy Ditzhazy, Ava Hampstead and Nolie Wagner of Granville, Timothy Hayes and Taryn Benson of Mt,. Vernon all dancing as dolls (among other roles), among the first characters to take the Midland stage.

"I saw the Nutcracker when I was little and thought it would be fund to do," Benson said.

"I love the party scene," Wagner said. "You get to make up your own little parts and there's so much acting, it's fun."

"You can't just watch it once because so much is going on," Ditzhazy said.

"From my roles I love dancing the porcelain (dolls)," Hayes offered. "But I like just watching the Russian (dance in Act II)."

"I love it because we're all friends here even though we come from different schools," Hampstead said.

"And we get to perform at the Midland," Wagner added.

Bekka Morlock of Thornville and Karissa Phillips of Coshocton will dance Clara, with Taryn Benson as understudy.

Cole said he keeps the production fresh by making changes to the show each year, from new costumes and choreography changes to changes in the scenes presented.

"We adapt the choreography and change it up based on the dancers we have," he explained.

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.

Tickets are available through the Midland Theatre. Call (740) 345-LIVE or visit www.midlandtheatre.org for information.