WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - Holiday traditions are resuming: from Santa Claus at the malls, to gift bazaars, to entertainment.
Friday night, an adaptation of the Christmas classic, "The Nutcracker," debuted in Walnut Creek.
"When the curtain rises and you feel that energy, I know it's something I lived for as a dancer," said Lauren Jonas, co-founder of the Diablo Ballet.
"I'm really excited to see the dancer's faces."
The 28 year old ballet last performed live in February 2020.
The next month, it was poised to make the Lesher Center for the Performing Arts its new home.
But a week from that debut, the pandemic shut everything down.
Now, it presents an hour-long ballet set at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel where heroine "Claire Diablo" falls in love with the bellhop who becomes the nutcracker prince.
"As the curtain goes up you feel the energy even though we look out to black and can't see anyone," said Jordan Tilton, one of 12 principal dancers with the professional corp.
There are also three trainees.
"It's been a long time, so I think there's a little bit of nerves but once we hear the audience again, it's going to be really rewarding and the nerves will go away."
The Nutcracker troupe of 34 also includes students, enrolled in the Mt. Diablo Ballet School.
For this production, teenagers were chosen because they were old enough to be fully vaccinated.
Everyone in the ballet organization is COVID tested weekly as well.
"The girls all seem so excited and we're excited as a family to get out," said Elizabeth Murillo, whose daughter Isabella is in the cast.
"It's our first outing since the pandemic!"
Ticket sales for two remaining shows on Saturday have been strong.
Proof of vaccination and a photo ID are required for admission to the Lesher Center.
"It seems like this is the time everyone is fully getting back and how wonderful that it's happening during the holidays," said Jonas.
The Nutcracker, she notes, is central to so many family holiday memories.
"Without it, it left a hole and I think it did for all the dancers."
During the pandemic hiatus, both professionals and students worked to stay in condition by doing virtual performances but found them far less satisfying.
"When you see a live audience you actually have the feel of the stage," said student dancer Jordan Francois-Rosa, 13.
"And instead of being in your comfort zone, you get to step out of your comfort zone."
The dancers were exhilarated Friday evening, feeling the joy of performance as they took their bows before a cheering audience.
"I'm super-excited to feel the audience and perform and give to the audience," said Madison Lee, 15, a student dancer.
"My favorite part is the finale when we're all together after all the hard work and just thanking the audience for coming to experience us."