Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

While the character she plays in "The Nutcracker" wakes up to realize her adventures were a dream, Molly Johnson's dreams are actually coming true.

"I first dreamed of playing Clara when I was about 5 years old and saw the show in Sacramento," the young dancer said. "Once I was in 'The Nutcracker,' I would watch the older girls and sort of follow their steps."

The Angels Camp eighth grader, who attends Mark Twain Elementary School, has appeared in "The Nutcracker" every year since Studio 4 Dance Theater first presented it six years ago.

"Every year, she would say 'I want to be Clara, I want to be Clara' and I kept telling her she had to wait until she got older," said Molly's mother, Melissa Johnson.

"Going on pointe is a huge commitment, and only for dancers who are serious," said Studio 4 director and "Nutcracker" choreographer Tammie Lee. "I make sure that every dancer is ready for this big step, and I was pleased by how seriously Molly and her family approached the process. She has worked tremendously hard to prepare for this role."

"The Nutcracker" also stars audience favoriteBrook Moes as the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Ethan Moes as the Nutcracker Prince, Katelyn Smith as the Dew Drop Fairy, Alexandra Linton as the Mouse Queen, Brianna Gilbert as the Ice Queen, Alyssa Walker as the Snow Queen, Lars Johnson as the Cavalier and King of Ice and Snow,and Rebecca Elliott as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The 2013 production of "The Nutcracker" open today and continues Friday and Saturday at the Bret Harte High School Theater in Angels Camp.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children. The box office opens an hour before each performance. The show runs two hours, which includes intermission with holiday refreshments.

There will be a session for pictures and autographswith the Sugar Plum Fairy afterthe matinee performance on Saturday.

Each year, Lee stays true to the magical tale of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince but changes the choreography and some of the characters to keep the experience fresh and entertaining.

This year's extravaganza features 55 dancers. Over the course of almost eight years of ballet instruction at Studio 4 School of Dance, Lee has built a strong corps of classically trained dancers, ages 3 to 50, and tailors her choreography to showcase each dancer's strengths and technical skills.

"It's been such a thrill to nurture the love of dance in so many talented young students in Calaveras County," Lee said. "Ballet requires intense discipline and many hours - and years - of hard work and commitment. After eight years, I am now able to showcase dancers I've been teaching since they were 4 years old as well as watch some of my early students go on to pursue dance in college. That's my dream come true."