Dancers in "The Nutcracker" rehearse before a full dress rehearsal Wednesday night. The ballet returns to the Rabobank Theater this weekend with four shows.

Forty years on, the annual "Nutcracker" ballet isn't just a tradition for those who go to see it every year; it's also one for the generations of dancers who have performed in it over the decades.

Back for a milestone year, Civic Dance Center will put on four performances of the Christmas classic this weekend at the Rabobank Theater, with one on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. 

"For so many people worldwide, 'The Nutcracker' is Christmas," said Kevin Trueblood, who co-owns the dance studio with wife Cindy. "When they see 'The Nutcracker,' it gets them into the Christmas season."

For Trueblood, seeing the young dancers evolve during their time in "The Nutcracker" has been his favorite part of four decades of the ballet.

"Myself, I might do the same part year after year, but I got to work with someone different," he said. "It's fun to make it special for them. For them, every year is unique, every year is special."

Some dancers from previous productions now have kids or even grandkids performing in the show, Trueblood said. 

All "Nutcracker" alumni are encouraged to go to the Saturday night performance to meet up for a reunion reception after the show. 

"We hope to bring them up on stage and have them take a bow with us," Trueblood said. 

This year, the cast is made up of 200 dancers from Civic Dance Center, ranging in age from 5 to 63 years old. Behind the scenes, the production has a huge crew, Trueblood said. All the hard work that goes into a production — from rehearsals to costumes and beyond — started in August.

"It's a huge commitment to be involved in this show," he said.

The dancers regularly perform in front of a full theater, but Trueblood said there's always room for more at the Rabobank Theater.

One thing missing from the theater this year will be a live orchestra, but Trueblood promised a great show nevertheless.

Previously, dancers performed with live accompaniment by the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, but in 2015, organizers couldn't afford the cost of the symphony, which had before assumed financial and production responsibilities. Donations saved the live music for that year's ballet, and last year the company used a partial orchestra.

This year will be the first in the production's history to not use live music. Instead, performers will dance to recorded music. Trueblood said fundraising the necessary $45,000 would have been "impossible."

"We have a great relationship with them," Trueblood said of the local symphony. "We would love to work something out (in the future)."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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