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?The Nutcracker' ready for local stage

By Michael Davis

The Atlanta Festival Ballet Company will soon be wrapping up rehearsals for their annual production of the holiday favorite, "The Nutcracker." With a cast of nearly 200 for each show, co-director of the company Gregory Aaron said, "This is an annual holiday treat for us."

Putting on a ballet of the size of "The Nutcracker" is not new to the company of 20 professional dancers. Having performed the ballet since the company began 14 years ago, Aaron said that often, people come back to see the signature dances he has incorporated into the production over the years.

"We're still using much of the original choreography from 14 years ago," Aaron said.

Condensing the ballet to just two hours has made the production very manageable and easy for children to follow, Aaron added. "Our production is very much family-oriented and made for the heart of the very youngest child," he said. "We've edited the music and taken out certain pieces ? the whole show is two hours, in and out."

Dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy for the third time, McDonough resident Danielle Hardeman has been in every production of "The Nutcracker" produced by the company since she started at their ballet school 13 years ago.

Now 18 years old and a recent graduate of Union Grove High School, Hardeman said that being in the ballet is a dream come true for her.

Now a paid member of the company, she said, "Every time I get on stage I just try to show everyone how much I love it. I want everyone to know the joy of dance."

Starting as a little girl in the role of a jester, she said she has played almost every part in the ballet since then.

As a dancer and instructor, McDonough resident Giselle DiBlasi said she gets to work with the children in the ballet school and at their own schools to get them ready for the performance.

With several casts of children, Atlanta Festival Ballet production allows, "more opportunity for people who may not have a lot of experience with dance to be a part of the show," she said.

"The Nutcracker" ballet is based on a book by German author E.T.A. Hoffman titled "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." Alexander Dumas revised the book and his version became the basis for choreographer Marius Petipa's interpretation, which was set to music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. "The Nutcracker" as a ballet was first performed in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The ballet came to America in the 1940s and was quickly embraced as a holiday tradition. Aaron said he hopes that families continue the holiday tradition and make the ballet, "part of starting (their Thanksgiving weekend) off."