Celebrating the spirit of the Christmas season-with all its energy, excitement and anticipation-is what "The Magic Toy Shop: Holiday Extravaganza" is all about, said Laura Arnason, executive and director of the North Dakota Ballet Co. and Academy.

"It's a fun, unique show" that gets bigger every year, she said.

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The show features about 75 local dancers who range in age from 3 years old to adult.

Performances begin at 7 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. Saturday in the Empire Arts Center.

The holiday dance production is split into two acts. The first takes the audience to the streets of New York at Christmastime-alive with the bustling shoppers, carolers, ice-skaters, street performers and vendors.

"It's like a medley or a mixed revue, with some of your favorites" in dance styles, she said.

In the festive romp through the city, the dancers' talents in tap, ballet, jazz and modern dance are on full display, Arnason said.

The second act, a one-act ballet, "tells the whole story of the toy shop," she said.

"That's where the magic happens, as a little boy sneaks in and finds the dolls coming to life," she added.

A group of "little dancers" will perform as toy shop characters with teddy bears, puppies and jingle bell clowns, she said.

The ballet bears some similarity to "The Nutcracker" because of "the colorful, bright dancing dolls and the light and energetic spirit" of the piece, Arnason said.

The performance is a rendition of the classic ballet "Fairy Doll," which premiered at the Vienna Court in 1888, she said.

The ballet "has been recrafted for our dancers by our ballet director, Lauren Paulson," Arnason said.

"A lot of the choreography is original to us," she said.

In addition to Arnason and Paulson, the production team also includes Leigha Wallin, the ballet company's academy director, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Among the leading performers in the show are Katie Liberman, a junior at Grand Forks Central High School, and Elizabeth Corcoran, a freshman at Red River High School.

Both are in the ballet company's apprentice training program, an intensive program that provides the highest level of training. Most the dancers at that level began serious ballet training at 7 years old, Arneson said.

In this weekend's show, most of the music is recorded, but area vocalists and a guitarist will perform during the first act of the family-friendly show.

Also, students from the Arioso Music Academy, violinists from the Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra and harpists will perform in the lobby before the show, Arnason said.

"The music sets the feel-good tone the audience will experience for the next couple of hours," she said. "From the moment people enter the building, we want them to feel the energy of the fun, lively stories they will see in this family-friendly show."

Holiday treats and hot drinks will be available.

The production is sponsored in part by the Myra Foundation and the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

It also is supported in part by a grant from the city of Grand Forks through the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region.

"What I enjoy about ballet is that it's beautiful art," Arnason said. "It's enjoyable to sit and watch."

With this production, the ballet company members are intent on creating a "fun, festive feeling," and she thinks they've succeeded, she said.

"The whole performance reminds me of a Hallmark movie."

If you go

What: "The Magic Toy Shop: Holiday Extravaganza"

When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Ave.

Tickets: Adults, $15; children, $12. Purchase tickets weekdays by calling the Empire Arts Center, (701) 746-5500, or anytime at www.empireartscenter.com.