Lisa Racina is in the middle of her busy season.
She and the performers in Denton City Contemporary Ballet are putting their last hours of rehearsal into A Gift for Emma, the company's holiday fantasia in dance. Roughly 130 dancers will tell the story of a little orphan who steals into a dance studio for warmth, then falls asleep underneath the studio Christmas tree.
As Emma sleeps, sweet dreams take her under the sea, through an arctic landscape and into scenes of joy, celebration and contemplation.
"My company is younger now," said Racina, who saw a big group of dancers graduate and head to college in the last few years. "A lot of my dancers are 14 and 15 years old; I have one or two seniors. But the thing that is so neat to me is that, because a lot of these girls are with me from the time they're little-bitty until they graduate, they see the show year after year and they learn the choreography for the parts they hope to get the next year."
The dancers in the ballet troupe are advanced dance students of Racina and her faculty members at Denton Dance Conservatory. The company dancers perform many of the principal roles and solos. Conservatory students form the corps de ballet and ensemble.
"The longer I do the show, the more I see the kids learn the choreography — not just theirs, but the big girls," Racina said. "The dancers who are my flowers and Arabians rehearse choreography in class, and it's a bridge to technique development."
The flowers and Arabian dance portions of the show are borrowed from The Nutcracker — the Waltz of the Flowers and the Arabian Dance.
Racina said she's especially proud that the performance draws mostly from her students.
"There are three guest artists; everyone else is a student," she said.
The show has always drawn from a wide array of dance styles to tell the story. Racina is a lifelong devotee of classical and modern ballet, but over the years, Emma has used ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance and hip-hop.
"I get a lot of support from the parents of my dancers. The volunteers do so much — one of them made our three-dimensional Christmas tree. It's a labor of love for all of us," Racina said. "What's unique about Emma is, I think, that if we didn't do it, it wouldn't feel like Christmas."
A Gift For Emma performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at Margo Jones Performance Hall, located on the first floor of the Texas Woman's University Music Building, 1100 Oakland. St.
Tickets cost $15 to $21, depending on seating.
FEATURED IMAGE: Lead characters from the Denton City Contemporary Ballet's A Gift for Emma. The Denton company will present its annual holiday fantasia Dec. 16-17. (Courtesy photo/Bruce Davis)