TORRINGTON — When Nutmeg Ballet’s all-new “Nutcracker” opens at the Warner Theatre and The Bushnell in December, much of what you will see on stage will be the work of two women with important connections to Nutmeg.

Susan Aziz has three daughters who studied at Nutmeg Ballet. Janessa Cornell Urwin is a former student at the Nutmeg. Now, to help celebrate the Nutmeg’s 50th anniversary, these two women are creating new masks and costumes for the 2019 production of “The Nutcracker.”

Both women have drawn on their Nutmeg experiences in their current theatrical professions. Susan has built costumes and masks for Hartford Stage Company, the Paul Winter Consort, several private schools and more. Janessa is wardrobe supervisor at the American Repertory Ballet in Princeton and New Brunswick, N.J., and has worked with Princeton Ballet School, ModArts Dance, Nacre Dance and more.

“My task for ‘The Nutcracker’ this year is some masks and some full costumes,” said Susan, a Litchfield resident. “My biggest assignment is the battle scene.” She said her work will include 12 soldiers, nine mice and more.

“I’m just one of those really lucky people who gets to play for my job. Most of my work is with students,” Susan said. “But truly, one of the first adventurous costumes I ever made was for Nutmeg. In one production a few years ago, Drosselmeyer brings three bears on stage that I helped create. So that was the first time I ever did anything that involved a mask.”

This past spring she helped create puppets for the Paul Winter Consort’s performance at First Church in West Hartford. “The big thing I made for them was a flock of seagulls, five seagull puppets. I made a condor. And I made a humpback whale, because in Paul Winter the whale is sort of the iconic sound. The whale was 12-feet-long and took five people to swim, so to speak. So that’s the kind of thing that I do,” she said.

“To make dance costumes is like the most fun thing ever, because it looks like one thing when it’s standing still and it looks like another thing when it’s moving, and from a design point of view that’s really fun,” she said.

How can a dancer see through an oversized mask? Where are the eye holes?

“Some of the material is thermal plastic, and you can see through it after it’s molded into the shape that you need,” she said. “They have to be able to see, that’s another thing about dancing. I mean, if you’re just walking down the street in a parade and you’re wearing a mascot head, that’s one thing. But these dancers have to be dancers first and then the character, so you have to make sure that they can do all this stuff.”

Susan said, “I like working on this project because of my family connection, but also I really like their dedication, their excellence. It’s really a thrill to be part of a project of that caliber. I’m 10 minutes away from this international dance academy. I drive into town and think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is right here!’”

Janessa Cornell Urwin is working on another aspect of the new costumes: she is designing many of them. Janessa danced at Nutmeg from 2005 to 2007, then danced with Roxey Ballet Company in Lambertville, N.J. She moved to American Repertory Ballet, where she also worked in the costume shop. She became a full-time assistant there and later retired from dancing and became wardrobe supervisor.

“I loved what I was doing, so I ended up deciding that my dance career wasn’t going to be that much longer anyway. I sort of cut my dance career short in order to go into costuming, which turned out to be a really great decision,” she said.

She earned a certificate in costume design from Fashion Institute of Technology and began designing new ballets. This past spring, while designing a new “Beauty and the Beast” for Kirk Peterson at ARB, she found herself in the right place at the right time.

“In the middle of that project, Kirk was teaching at Nutmeg, and they were mentioning that they were looking into getting a new ‘Nutcracker,’ and he said [to Victoria Mazzarelli, Nutmeg’s artistic director], ‘Oh, Janessa just designed “Beauty and the Beast” for me, you should call her. She’s an alum here.’”

When Victoria asked if she was interested, Janessa said, “Absolutely, I haven’t done a ‘Nutcracker’ yet. I would love to do one!”

She is designing new Snowflake costumes and new Flower costumes, as well as the Marzipan and Jesters. “I think we have 14 Snowflakes made, 14 Flowers made, four principal Snowflakes, two Dew Drops and more,” she said.

“I have two costume shops working for me: One of them is Class Act Tutu in Seattle, Washington; they do really great work for ballet,” she said. “I’m also working with Travis Halsey Costume Shop in Chicago, and he’s doing the Marzipan and the Jesters. I am also working with an independent stitcher, Lisa Dietrich of Texas.”

Like Susan Aziz, Janessa Cornell Urwin feels a special bond with the Nutmeg. “Just being able to go back and work with the school I graduated from, I still can’t wrap my mind around it,” she said. “I know most of the staff. It’s so much fun working with them in a professional capacity as opposed to being a student. I’m coming back as a costume designer, in a slightly different field although it’s related, so that’s really cool for me.”

Victoria said, “I am thrilled to be working with such incredibly creative women. Their history with Nutmeg is very special to all of us. Once a Nutmegger, always a Nutmegger.”

Nutmeg Ballet has produced “The Nutcracker” more than 40 times since Sharon Dante founded Nutmeg in 1969. In celebration of Nutmeg’s first 50 years, “The Nutcracker” this year will feature a completely redesigned set and new costumes when it is performed at the Warner Theatre Dec. 7 and 8 and at the Bushnell Dec. 14 and 15. For ticket information, go to www.nutmegconservatory.org/nutcracker.

Connecticut Media Group