Posture is paramount to Camille Kellems.
And not only because she's a ballerina, but because she is a ballerina with scoliosis.
The 16-year-old Newport Beach resident was diagnosed as having a curved spine when she was 13.
For two years, she went to bed every night wearing a tight brace.
The device helped arrest the spinal curvature and allowed her to dance during the day completely unfettered, powering through any discomfort.
Although the Corona del Mar High School junior no longer needs to stabilize her spine while sleeping, she remains vigilant about her form onstage and off.
Starting Saturday, she will don a pink tutu and glide into the spotlight at the Northwood High School Performing Arts Theatre in Irvine. Camille, enamored of ballet since she was 3, has been cast as the Sugarplum Fairy in the Irvine-based Maple Youth Ballet's annual production of "The Nutcracker."
An 80-person cast will take the stage through Monday in keeping with a five-year tradition. Along with choreography by the troupe's director, Charles Maple, the two-hour show will star Czech Republic-born guest dancer Vaclav Lamparter, a member of the American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, portraying the Nutcracker Prince.
"The Maple Ballet's version has become an affordable holiday choice among Southland families, many of whom have not attended a ballet prior to 'The Nutcracker,'" Maple said via email. "For a child, there is no better introduction to the world of ballet than 'The Nutcracker.' It's colorful and accessible, with a child-centric story fueled by [Peter] Tchaikovsky's exquisite score."
While the choreography does not change significantly every year, dancers bring characteristic flair to their roles, he remarked.
The performance kicks off in the prologue with Grandmother Clara, who is surrounded by her grandchildren on Christmas, relaying the story of being gifted her beloved Nutcracker and pointe shoes by Herr Drosselmeyer.
"In most Nutcrackers, the character of Clara is not defined in any particular manner," Maple said. "She is simply a young girl (daughter of the hosts of the party), who receives a Nutcracker, falls asleep and then has a dream of her Nutcracker becoming larger than life, a battle ensues, etc. In our Nutcracker, Clara faints after the Nutcracker is killed and she awakens as a grown-up."
At this point in the show, she is wearing pointe shoes and mourning the loss of her beloved Nutcracker, whom Drosselmeyer transforms into a prince. As active participants, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince dance in the second act and also perform the grand pas de deux.
"So, in short, our Nutcracker is an actual story where the character of Clara is very involved from the beginning until the very end," Maple said.
Just as Clara grows up onstage with the Nutcracker, so has Camille — who played the role several times when she was younger.
When she got news of her scoliosis, Camille wondered if she could have a future as a ballerina, but she wasn't immobilized by worry. Instead, she recalled feeling blessed that surgery wasn't needed and focused on the success story of New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan, a fellow scoliosis patient.
As a full-time student who trains three to four hours a day, Camille said the Sugarplum Fairy is a tough role. It not only demands a lot of stamina but includes intricate and challenging routines.
"I've tried to capture the royalty and maturity of the role, but that can be challenging for a 16-year-old," she said, laughing.
Camille, who spent the summer at an intensive program hosted by the School of American Ballet, part of the New York City Ballet, has also danced at Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre. Thankful to be among the few youngsters to make the cut, she said the Maple Youth Ballet feels like home — it's where she's surrounded by a closely knit community that is always ready to support her.
Although "The Nutcracker" can claim hundreds of reinterpretations, Maple believes that the audience will be gripped by his fusion of "substantive choreography" and "eye-popping production values."
"Our original concept — a ballet about ballet and a little girl's passion to dance — is what sets the Maple Ballet's 'The Nutcracker' apart," he said.
If You Go
What: Maple Youth Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
Where: Northwood High School Performing Arts Theatre, 4515 Portola Pkwy., Irvine
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Monday
Cost: $26 to $30