Take a poll of Christmas shoppers walking Mesa Mall. Name a ballet that you have seen on stage or would immediately recognize the music from? Seventy percent of the time they will probably mention "The Nutcracker." (Disclaimer: The facts and figures represented in this article are merely the musings of the author.) Just like watching "White Christmas," eating fruitcake or putting up Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving, "The Nutcracker" is a holiday tradition for many families and the one ballet that a majority of the public looks forward to each year.Written in 1892 by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, "The Nutcracker," which premiered in St. Petersburg, did not receive great reviews from the general public. Critics described the Sugar Plum Fairy as "corpulent" and "pudgy," one of the dolls as "insipid," and the battle scene as confusing, "One cannot understand anything... disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards - quite amateurish."Despite the initial response, "The Nutcracker" has become a staple of the holiday season and has flourished as an American tradition since the New York City Ballet began annual performances in 1954 which then spread across the United States. Some ballet companies are kept afloat year to year by their "Nutcracker" productions.Beginning this evening, Dec. 14, the Grand Junction Symphony will stage three performances of the much loved ballet at the Grand Junction High School Auditorium. Friday's performance begins at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday's performances include a 2 p.m. matinee and a final performance at 7:30 p.m. The Grand Junction Symphony production of "The Nutcracker" is fully staged, fully orchestrated and features dancers from Colorado Mesa University, local high schools and local dance companies. Two principal dancers from the New York City Ballet - yes, that same company mentioned above - will perform the final pas de deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Robert Fairchild returns to the Grand Junction Symphony stage, having performed as the Cavalier, in the GJSO's most recent production in 2008. Fairchild is originally from Salt Lake City and has been dancing with the New York City Ballet since 2005 and was promoted to a principal dancer in 2009. The Sugar Plum Fairy, Sterling Hyltin, will make her first visit to Grand Junction and has been with the New York City Ballet since 2002 and was promoted to principal dancer in 2007.This entirely local production was choreographed and staged by CMU professors Melonie Buchanan Murray and Jeremy Franklin, respectively. Auditions were initially held in August and the company has been rehearsing mostly Saturdays and other evenings since that time. This year's production features brand new costumes and set design led by costume coordinator Mark Mathews and a production team of nearly 30 people.Grand Junction High School sophomore Tanner Blee will be performing as the Nutcracker. Blee has been studying ballet for years through Absolute Dance in Grand Junction and has spent the past few summers at intensive training sessions in Pittsburgh, Boston and New York City.Whether "The Nutcracker" is your annual holiday tradition or you are looking to start one, you will not want to miss the performances this weekend. Tickets are still available for all performances and can be purchased online at gjsymphony.org, by calling 970-243-6787, or visiting the Symphony office at 225 N. Fifth St. suite 120. Tickets range from $15-$25 for adults depending on seating and only $5 for students and children.The Grand Junction Symphony would like to thank the Grand Junction Commission on Arts & Culture, the Rocky Mountain Orthopaedics Spine Team and Columbine Caregivers for their underwriting support. A special thanks to the Goodwin Foundation for their generous funding that helped to create and purchase much of the new costuming for future performances of "The Nutcracker."