WATERVILLE — Eva Walden floated around backstage wearing a pink and white ruffled dress, tights and pointe shoes, her hair drawn back in a burst of blond curls.

It was 20 minutes to curtain and she was beaming and breathy, anticipating her stage entrance. Like the other performers in “The Nutcracker” ballet at the Waterville Opera House, she had worked long and hard to get to this moment.

“I’m really excited,” she whispered. “I try not to think about being nervous because when I do that, I often second-guess myself and that’s one of my challenges. I try to stay calm and I believe in myself no matter what — good show or bad show. I know it’s going to be a really good show.”

The 16-year-old is a member of the Bossov Ballet Theatre at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. She was playing the character Marie, sometimes called Clara, in the ballet, about to open for a 2 p.m. Saturday matinée.

Walden, who is home-schooled and lives in Pittsfield — her family moved there from Philadelphia just so she could be part of the Bossov ballet — loves playing Marie. Once onstage, she is transformed.

“I just feel so beautiful and I feel like Marie and I am Marie.”

Indeed, after the lights dimmed, the curtain rose and the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky filled the Opera House, Walden became Marie, dancing exquisitely on the stage.

The classical ballet is based on German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 fairy tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Set in Germany in 1830, it follows Marie on Christmas Eve as she attends her parents’ Christmas party and receives a gift of a nutcracker before falling asleep and dreaming about entering the Land of Sweets. The ballet was first performed in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Bossov artistic director and choreographer Natalya Getman — who danced in the Moscow Ballet and Turkmenistan State Theater of Ballet and Opera, toured extensively and has been in the U.S. since 1999 — brings a stellar performance to the Opera House with a cast of mostly MCI students, including several from other countries, including Japan and Mexico.

Freshman Hinano Kondo, 14, performed as a sugar plum Saturday and through translator Chisa Ueda, 17, also a Japanese student, said beforehand that she is learning a lot about acting, expression and being able to perform in different roles.

While she was a bit homesick for Japan at first, she grew into the comfort of having a supportive teacher in Getman, as well as in her fellow dancers.

“I’m having very good time because they’re so nice to me, even though I don’t understand the language,” she said.

Before the show Saturday — and there was to be another performance Saturday night and Sunday afternoon — the 35 cast members, mostly ages 6 to 23, gathered in dressing rooms and backstage after donning their costumes and applying makeup. They chatted excitedly, laughed, took cell phone photos and prepared for the show.

Besides Walden, two other dancers play Marie: Riley Max, 16, an MCI junior, who performed in the role Friday night and will do it Sunday as well; and Maia Blake, 17, a senior who was to portray Marie on Saturday night. Both said the role is challenging, but once they get the movements and character and arrive onstage, all the angst melts away and they flow into their parts.

Getman pointed to the success of Jose Porras, 20, who portrays the nutcracker in the ballet. Porras came to Bossov two summers ago from Mexico with little training and understanding of English. He worked hard to develop skills and reach his goals, with help from Getman, and now is a college student in Mexico and was invited back to the U.S. to perform in the role.

“We try to do everything possible to make that happen,” Getman said.

Porras said he always is received at Bossov with open arms.

“I just feel that this is my second home,” he said.

Moments before curtain, stage manager Guillermo “Will” Franco, 25, also from Mexico and a dancer who performed in “The Nutcracker” in the past, was making sure cast members were ready and nothing was missing or out of place so the show would go smoothly.

He said managing a show is a completely different experience than being part of the cast, and he was thrilled to be learning another role.

“I love everything to do with theater and the arts and I’ve always wanted to learn about the other aspects,” he said.

Bossov Theatre Manager Elizabeth Audet checked on cast members as she moved from room to room prior to the performance. She introduced Mary Beiter, 59, who has performed as a “party parent” in the first scene of “The Nutcracker” several times and is the mother of Julia Bluhm, now 20, who as a child performed 13 years in the ballet.

Another cast member who plays a party parent, Charles Gallerani, 60, of Pittsfield, said he has performed in the role three years and loves it. He started studying with Getman six years ago in a class she taught for adults.

“This is like my zen and I get to enter a world that normal people don’t get to see,” he said, waiting in the darkened wings. “I actually see the work and everything that goes into a performance. You see the smiles on stage, but there’s a lot of sweat and tears to make that happen.”

Wearing a black cloak and white ruffled shirt, Gallerani, who works at MCI as a mechanical technician, said he admires the children who study at Bossov and has great respect for their hard work and talent.

“I can’t wait to see them down in Boston and New York, doing it professionally,” he said.

More than 800 people of all ages packed the Opera House for the Saturday matinée.

In the front row were Melany Buxton, 58, of Avon, and her family, including her granddaughter, Chelsie Tyler, 6, and niece, Hazen Napp, 4.

Buxton said she had seen the “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, but never at the Waterville Opera House, and she couldn’t wait for the curtain to rise. What she most looked forward to, she said, was the expressions on the children’s faces as they watched the Christmas ballet.

“They both love to dance,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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