NEW YORK (AP) _ The New York City Ballet and its striking musicians held talks aimed at ending the walkout before Friday night's Lincoln Center opening of the holiday favorite ``The Nutcracker.''

Ballet officials said the dancers would perform to a recording of the Tchaikovsky score if a deal was not reached by curtain time, at 8 p.m.

``The Nutcracker'' has been the centerpiece of New York's holiday season for years. Its ballerinas create a Christmastime dream world filled with dancing mice, sugar plum fairies and toy soldiers.

The 63 musicians went on strike Tuesday, forcing the ballet to cancel a performance that evening.

``I'm not optimistic nor am I pessimistic'' about reaching a settlement, said Judy West, spokeswoman for Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. ``I'm hoping.''

The main point of contention has been management's demand for more stringent orchestra attendance requirements, Ms. West said.

The current contract does not specify the number of rehearsals or performances musicians must attend. Ms. West said the company proposed a two-tiered system that would demand a set number of appearances from newly hired musicians but not from veterans. The union rejected the proposal.

Members of the Radio City Music Hall orchestra recently settled a contract dispute with their theater, and stagehands at 23 Broadway theaters are threatening a strike.