Photo by GK Photography -- Clara is transfixed by the dancers in the Delta Festival Ballet production of 'The Nutcracker.'

Dolls, dance and delight meld for magical holiday happiness when the timeless story of a young girl, a toy and a night of mystical dreams comes alive, all set to classic music.

"The Nutcracker" has been an entrenched element of holiday celebration almost since the work premiered in the late 1800s in Moscow, then made its way to a global presence in the 1940s. With many incarnations, the story changes slightly from production to production, but the basis is the story of a young girl who receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift and dreams fantastic worlds and adventures with the nutcracker-turned-prince (or cavalier), all set to Tchaikovsky's score. There's dancing snow, waltzing flowers and marauding mice in the meantime.

For those in the Crescent City who crave the beauty and tradition of this ballet, there are productions throughout the season from a variety of groups, professional and amateur.


BALLET APETREI: Opening 7 p.m. Friday, also Saturday; Mandeville High School Auditorium, 100 Skipper Drive, Mandeville. Ballet Apetrei’s production of the classic ballet benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Covington. $10 and up. (985) 624-3622.

LELIA HALLER BALLET CLASSIQUE: Opening 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday; Jesuit High School Auditorium, 4133 Banks St., New Orleans. Lelia Haller Ballet Classique's Ballet Louisiane production of the fairy tale classic comes to life for two performance. $25. (504) 482-0038.

RIVER REGION BALLET: Opening 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; Destrehan High School Auditorium, 1 Wildcat Lane, Destrehan. River Region Ballet presents Clara and company, with a special sugar plum party Sunday. $20 advance, $25 door; party $15 advance, $20 door.

NEW ORLEANS BALLET ASSOCIATION AND NORDC: Opening 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday, Dixon Hall, Tulane University, 6823 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans. New Orleans Ballet Association and New Orleans Recreation Development Commission present the popular stage event with Tchaikovsky's score. $15. (504) 522-0996.

JEFFERSON BALLET THEATRE: Opening Dec. 8-17;  Gretna Cultural Center, 740 Huey P. Long Ave., Gretna. Jefferson Ballet Theatre presents the classic holiday piece by Tchaikovsky. $15 and up. (504) 468-1231.

NEW ORLEANS BALLET THEATRE: Opening Dec. 16-22;  Orpheum Theater, 129 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans. New Orleans Ballet Theatre takes to the stage to bring to life the timeless holiday classic. $38 and up. (504) 826-0646.

DELTA FESTIVAL BALLET WITH LPO: Opening Dec. 22-23;  Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, 1419 Basin St., New Orleans. Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra performs the soaring ballet score live for the Delta Festival Ballet production. $35 and up. (504) 888-0931.

MOSCOW BALLET: Opening Dec. 26,  Saenger Theatre, 1111 Canal St., New Orleans. Moscow Ballet's production of the Christmas classic boasts lavish sets and costumes, special effects and the complete score. $27.50 and up. (504) 525-1052.