The boom of a hammer cuts through the dimly-lit theater.
A tall Christmas tree, with brightly-wrapped presents, sits on stage. Someone tediously checks the lights. They must sit at just the right angle to pick up the dancers' pirouettes and plies.
Then snow falls.
Director Alice Holden Bock, better known as "Ms. Alice" to her Brandon Ballet students, nods her head in approval.
As she runs through her mountainous rehearsal checklist for the upcoming performance of The Nutcracker, Bock stops.
Where are the costumes?
"I need to make a phone call," she says. "We need Clara and Drosselmeyer."
• • •
Outside in the parking lot at Spoto High School, Carlos Rodriguez opens a car door. He stares at the piles of costumes, sewing machines, glue guns, boxes of elastic, thread and sparkly bits.
There is Clara's tangerine dress and Drosslemyer's blue velvet cape, both tucked safely behind plastic for protection from the dreary day.
Rodriguez takes in a deep breath and begins to unload the car. Along with playing an extra in the party scene, he also puts his sewing skills to use.
"Here we go," he says, heading into the school. "We might have to pull an all-nighter."
This Brandon dad is one of many parents who make The Nutcracker happen. His daughters, Makara, 14, and Aimee, 12, have danced with the ballet company for about seven years.
He is one of 150 people who show up every year, coming early in the morning and staying until late at night, to ensure the dancers are part of the kind of production for which the Brandon Ballet is known.
Classy, elegant and always professional.
But that takes a lot of hard work. And lots of help.
• • •
A tightly-wound bun holds her hair back.
Sarah Parry does a few stretches after she puts on her ballet slippers. Then she starts to flutter around the dressing room.
For the ballet's 16th season performing The Nutcracker, the 14-year-old has the lead role of Clara. She first took the stage eight years ago in the ballet as a little rat.
"I'm really excited," Sarah says, pointing her toes. "But I really love when both my parents are here."
Breathless and sweaty after a performance, there's nothing better than seeing their faces when she runs off stage. "Then we say, 'We did it!' "
It has been a while since Jack and Elizabeth Parry have seen The Nutcracker as audience members. He's a stage hand and an extra in the party scene. She is a backstage coordinator.
"Eight o'clock came early this morning," Jack Parry says, putting down his hammer. "But I'm committed to helping."
Just like all the other parents, he knows how much his daughter loves to dance.
"What's important to her," he says, "is important to me."
• • •
If Rodriguez had sons, he would play soccer and help with the baseball team's concession stand.
But he has two girls who don't think Christmas is Christmas without The Nutcracker.
"I asked them this year if they wanted to take a year off and just relax," he says. "They said, 'No!' "
Rodriguez laughs as he talks and sits down at his makeshift sewing table, across from costume designer Lisa Coxon. She has been in charge of the elaborately designed costumes for the last five years.
He remembers years ago, when he enrolled his oldest daughter in ballet classes. At the time, it seemed like a good thing for her to do after school. She was 5.
Then Aimee came along and followed her older sister. She started at 3.
As they got more involved in the ballet, so did he.
When he watches them dance, peeking through the side stage curtains, he can't believe how fast the years have gone.
They are young ladies now, who have learned how to present themselves as well-rounded individuals because of what they've learned from ballet.
It makes him smile.
But then he remembers that he has to get back to sewing. There are costumes to be made.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 661-2454.