Extending a holiday tradition that dates from 1984, Connecticut Ballet’s The Nutcracker, returns to the Palace Theatre, 61 Atlantic Street, Stamford, for four performances on Saturday, Dec. 17, and Sunday, Dec. 18.

Artistic Director Brett Raphael, who created the annual production, has announced that guest stars Veronika Part, Hee Seo, Blaine Hoven of American Ballet Theatre and Amar Ramasar of New York City Ballet will alternate in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier. American Ballet Theatre soloist Hoven will be making his Connecticut Ballet debut with this engagement.

The professional company will be joined by more than 100 local children from a dozen local dance schools and academies.  

The featured role of Clara will be danced this year by 14-year-old Riverside resident Anna Saggese, a student at Connecticut Ballet Center. She has performed in the ballet for the last seven years in different children’s parts.

In announcing his choice for this year’s Clara, Raphael said Anna “has worked her way up the ladder from 2009 to the point where she is a Connecticut Ballet junior trainee and has just been named to play the lead role in our production (alongside the fabulous guest artists from New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre). It really is the story of a girl’s dream come true.”

Talking recently with a member of the Connecticut Ballet Center staff, Anna described her history in various Nutcracker roles:

“In years past, I have been honored to have the opportunity to perform many different roles in The Nutcracker. I have been:

“A meece; a crown carrier; a polichinelle (I was the naughty girl one year); an ice fairy; a party scene girl; a tea leaf; the bed bug (the very first one!); a candy cane; a soldier; a member of junior snow corps —

“And now Clara!”

Asked, “You must have a lot of commitment and perseverance as a dancer to be cast as Clara. What advice do you have for other dancers who are auditioning or might want to audition for a dance production?”

Anna responded, “Never stop believing in yourself. You may come to a time when you think you’re not good enough or you think that you can’t do something. Most of the time, that is wrong. You have to believe in yourself and believe that you can get a part in the show you are auditioning for. What is most important is that you give it your all and make sure you are doing the best that you believe that you can do. Also, don’t get discouraged if you aren't given a part. There will always be other opportunities to perform that you can try out for. There is so much to be learned just from auditioning.”

Talking about being cast as Clara, she said, “For me, it is a dream come true. Since I have performed in The Nutcracker for so many years, I have watched many different dancers perform the role of Clara. I have seen how hard they work and what they do while they are performing and even while they’re backstage. I am lucky enough to be friends with Hannah Scherer, last year’s Clara, and I shared a dressing room with her. I got to see what she had to go through rehearsal-wise and I even helped her with some of her stress. Since I have seen all the hard work that every dancer has put into dancing the role of Clara, I am honored to know that Mr. Raphael thought that I was up to the task.”

Connecticut Ballet is a nationally recognized, professional dance company currently celebrating its 35th anniversary season. It’s headquartered in Stamford and Hartford and performs statewide, including annual seasons at The Bushnell in Hartford and Stamford Center for the Arts. In addition to full-scale classical ballet productions, Connecticut Ballet’s Center for Dance Education offers a comprehensive educational program including school assemblies, outreach classes at juvenile detention facilities, schools and community centers, and a Dance Exposure Project for underserved youth.

The company first presented Brett Raphael’s production of The Nutcracker in 1984. It has been performed annually since that time, both locally and across New England.

Nutcracker performance tickets are now on sale, priced at $75, $60, $50, and $40 plus theater surcharge. For ticket reservations, visit www.palacestamford.org. All performances are fully handicapped accessible.

This production of The Nutcracker has a run time of two hours, with an intermission. The company suggests that children be at least three years old to attend, suggesting parental discretion “based on the maturity level of their children.”

A meet-and-greet with the guest stars in the theater lobby will follow each performance.

Performances are: Saturday, Dec. 17, at  2 and 6 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 18, at 1 and 5 p.m.

In addition, audience members may visit the Nutcracker Boutique. Dozens of holiday items from collectible nutcrackers to holiday ornaments, children’s books and souvenir sweatshirts will be on sale before, during and after the performances.