Audiences who are familiar with “The Nutcracker” will recognize characters such as Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, the Mouse King and Mother Ginger at this weekend’s performances. But there are a few surprises in store as Dance Arts Theatre enters its 28th season of performing the classic Christmas ballet.

Added characters including two pop-up presents and a lead soldier will take the stage Saturday and Sunday in Wright Auditorium as part of the benefit ballet.

“The Nutcracker,” which features a score by Tchaikovsky, is based on “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” by E.T.A. Hoffman. The story centers on a young girl whose beloved nutcracker soldier is transformed into a handsome prince who takes her on a magical journey.

“We did add a couple of roles this year. The audience will be able to see that,” Artistic Director Sherryl Tipton said. “Every major company now takes a little bit of liberties with it.”

In recent years, Dance Arts Theatre’s production has expanded to include gingerbread cookies, tiny mice, giant cupcakes and Lord and Lady Buttercream.

“Whatever new character we add like that, children just think it’s the most amazing part,” Tipton said.

“It’s really kind of fun to have that added part.”

One reason for the additional roles is accommodate the more than 100 cast members, who include students from Tipton’s studio, the North Carolina Academy of Dance Arts, along with Carolina Ballet principal dancers Timour Bourtasenkov, Richard Krusch, Margaret Severin-Hansen and Yevgeny Shlapko.

The annual event is a benefit for the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center. Since its inception, the ballet has raised more than $200,000 for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.