Nancy Gold McFall remembers her days as Clara in Willam F. Christensen's "The Nutcracker."

"There was a lot of discipline for the dancers," said McFall, who was Salt Lake City's first Clara in 1954, the year the ballet was premiered by the Utah Civic Ballet, later named Ballet West."There was a lot of competition, too," she recalled. "But the production was magical."

This year's production of "The Nutcracker" holds special meaning for McFall. Her 12-year-old granddaughter, Ashley Hansen, is one of Ballet West's Claras.

Of 21 girls who tried out for Clara, only six made it.

Ashley remembered what happened at the tryouts a couple of months ago. "My grandma kept calling my mom. I was trying out for a 'party girl' when I was told to come back two weeks later."

Ashley tried out with 150 girls just for the party scene, but then the big news came when she was named Clara for Cast B.

"When I first talked to my grandma, I told her I didn't make Clara," said Ashley with a sly laugh. "Then I told her I did. We screamed. And then I told her it was for her. Then we cried and became really emotional."

McFall said of her granddaughter's successful tryout, "This has been 40 years in the making."

"I wanted to be Clara for years," said Ashley, who has been dancing since she was 3. "And I did other 'Nutcrackers' before."

Ashley was part of the Mt. West Ballet's version of "The Nutcracker," and she was a "buffoon" two years ago in the Ballet West production.

"I wanted to be 'party girl' then," Ashley confided. "But I was too short. Then Gary Horton (artistic director of the Mt. West Ballet) wanted me to be Clara this year, but I got the Ballet West part."

For his part, Christensen simply wanted to create a full-length holiday ballet that appealed to the whole family.

" 'The Nutcracker' is just a story about a little girl who has a dream," Christensen, 96, said during an interview at his home. "It was a simple story with magical moments."

Christensen's vision began in 1944 when he was in San Francisco doing short "Nutcracker" excerpts. His idea to pull all the scenes together and create an evening's worth of dance and storytelling was fueled by encouragement from George Balanchine, and from Christensen's brother, Harold.

"We got to talking, and once we did it, we sold out the San Francisco Opera House before we started the rehearsals," said Christensen, who is known as "Mr. C" to his friends.

"It was magical," said McFall, who is now a director at the Draper Historic Theatre. "Mr. C had a vision, and he brought that wonderful vision to the stage. Back then, the costumes weren't as elaborate and sometimes they weren't very pretty, but the production was charming and endearing and it has become a wonderful tradition."

"Clara, to me, is adventurous," said straight-A student Ashley. "She's a girl who's curious and has fights with her brother (Fritz). And I try to bring that across when I dance that role."

Back when McFall was Clara -- when the Utah Civic Ballet was part of the University of Utah dance program -- Christensen already had a cast in mind.

"We only did four or five performances," McFall said. "But he had the cast already set, although we did have to audition for the company."

Christy Hansen, Ashley's mother and McFall's daughter, is just taking things in stride.

She spends a great deal of time driving her daughter to rehearsals every night and running errands downtown until the rehearsals are over. But she smiles when she talks about her dancing family.

"I'm proud of both of them," she said. "It makes me happy to see the bonds that are there and I'm thrilled 'The Nutcracker' is part of our lives."