The Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet, under the direction of Jennifer Beasley, will present their 20th anniversary production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 8-9 at the Jackson Academy Performing Arts Center on Ridgewood Road in Jackson.

Guest artists Rodrigo Almarales and Maizyalet Velazquez will dance the leading roles. Almarales and Velazquez are professional dancers with the Cincinnati Ballet.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, with matinee performances at 2 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 8 and Sunday, Dec. 9. The popular Nutcracker Tea Parties will follow the matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. The Tea Parties allow children to meet and greet the dancers while enjoying a delectable plate of treats.

The timeless story of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince has delighted audiences of all ages for more than one hundred years.

The grand ballet takes Clara and the audience from the festive party scene of toys, soldier dolls, and puppets, through the magical Land of Snow and finally to the Land of Sweets.

From the wondrous beauty of the Sugarplum Fairy, to the excitement of the mice and soldier battle scene, to the comical Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles, there is something to entertain everyone.

The Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet, a non-profit ballet company and a member of the Southeast Regional Ballet Association, presents its annual production of The Nutcracker with participation from over 100 dancers from the metro Jackson area.

Dancers are selected through an audition process from Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy students. The Mississippi Metropolitan Dance Academy is the official school of the Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet.

Guest artists Almarales and Velazquez will dance the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Both dancers are currently Soloists with the Cincinnati Ballet. Almarales began his training at the National Ballet School of Cuba, and has danced professionally with both the Deutsche Oper Am Rhein in Germany and the Boston Ballet before joining the Cincinnati Ballet in 2011.

He was a bronze medalist in the 2008 Varna International Ballet Competition and a silver medalist in the 2010 Helsinki International Ballet Competition. Velazquez hails from Puerto Rico, and is a 2007 graduate of the Virginia School of the Arts. She has danced with the Cincinnati Ballet since 2007.

Additional guest artists include Dexter Bishop, a Clinton native and MMB alumnus currently dancing professionally with Missouri Ballet Theatre, in the Russian divertissement. Kevin Arredondo, also an MMB alumnus and a student in the Belhaven University Dance Department, will perform the role of The Snow King. Donavan Davis, a graduate of the Belhaven University Dance Department, will perform the role of The Nutcracker. Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet Artist-in-Residence Cindy Edmonson of Brandon will dance the Spanish divertissement.

The role of the Snow Queen will be danced by MMDA students Caroline Jones of Brandon and Maggie Holmes of Madison, and the role of Clara will be danced by Larissa Saenz, also an MMDA student who resides in Madison.

The Nutcracker is the perfect way to ring in the holiday season and to introduce children to the power and beauty of classical dance. "At the heart of Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet's mission is our quest to share the magic of dance with the people of our community, and to encourage a love of the arts in the hearts and minds of our audience members," said Jennifer Beasley, Artistic Director.

"We are proud to be presenting our 20th annual production of The Nutcracker to our community; it is both our most important outreach tool, offering many in our community their first exposure to the ballet, but also a time-honored holiday tradition. It is just not the holiday season without The Nutcracker!"

Tea Party seating is limited and reserved tickets are required. Reserving tickets for the performances only is also suggested.

Performance tickets are available for $18 or $20, with discounts offered for senior citizens. Tickets for the Tea Party are $25 or $30, which includes a performance ticket.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.msmetro ballet.com or by calling 601-853-4508.

Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet is generously sponsored by The Mississippi Arts Commission, The National Endowment for the Arts, Trustmark Bank, LeFleur Limousines, Merrill Lynch, Harper, Rains, Knight & Co, Mad Genius, and Ergon.

For more information on the Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet, visit www.msmetroballet.com or email info@msmetroballet.com.