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Festival Ballet opens season on Oct. 30

By Kathy Jefcoats

Atlanta Festival Ballet opens its 15th season Oct. 30 with a special Halloween production at Henry Performing Arts Center.

The ballet company, which opened its doors in Clayton County before moving to Stockbridge, features both students and professional dancers from both counties. Next Saturday's holiday performance is the first choreographed by Jay Jernigan.

"I hope the audience finds this show to be accessible to them," he said. "I hope they leave feeling excited and that they had fun."

"'Twas the Night Before Halloween" will be danced by more than 40 students and professionals. They will celebrate Halloween through novelty songs familiar to most everyone – "Monster Mash," "The Blob" and "Purple People Eater."

"It's very kid-oriented with a wide range of ages in the cast," said Jernigan.

Children attending the performance are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes. Tickets are $18 and group discounts are available. Performances are at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

But Saturday's ticket buys more than just a fun Halloween performance. The holiday tribute is preceded by "Carmina Burana," choreographed by Nicolas Pacana, one of the company's two artistic directors.

According to the Auburn University Web site, "Carmina Burana" is a collection of poems, songs and short plays found in Benediktbeuern, a Benedictine abbey south of Munich, in 1803. "This manuscript was of 13th century German origin and contained approximately 250 poems and other pieces," states the site. "When Johann Andreas Schmeller published the collection in 1847, he gave it the title of ?Carmina Burana.' This name means ?songs of Beuren,' though it has since been discovered that the manuscript did not originate there, and may have come from Seckau."

The majority of the "Carmina Burana" is written in Latin, which was the standard language of literacy at the time.

Gregory Aaron is the company's second artistic director.

"We are excited that the company has grown to include 17 professional dancers and matured to the level that we are able to offer ?Carmina Burana' to our audiences," he said.

Operations director Giselle DiBlasi said the Oct. 30 offering is not "typical" for the company.

"This is something different for this area," she said. "It is not just about a story but an appreciation of dance. We'll have modern and contemporary dance, it's not a typical ballet and I think everyone will find something they will find enjoyable."

As for "Halloween," Jernigan is eager to see how his first effort plays out on stage.

"This is my first experience choreographing for a professional company and I look forward to seeing how that goes," said Jernigan. "I am thankful for the opportunity coming from Nicolas and Gregory to be able to do that."

The rest of the season will likely be as appealing as the premiere event. "The Nutcracker" will be performed several times over the next two months. The first shows will be held at the Clayton Performing Arts Center Nov. 27-28 at 2:30 p.m. and at the Henry Performing Arts Center Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 19 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.

The company will partner with Suder Elementary School for the Clayton PAC show and with Locust Grove Elementary School for the Henry performance. DiBlasi said the partnership means more than 250 students will be exposed to the holiday favorite.

In March, "The Little Mermaid" will be featured at the Clayton center March 19 at 7:30 p.m. and March 20 at 2:30 p.m.

"An Artist Life" will be performed at the Henry center April 23. Aaron said he is excited about this show because it includes several different art disciplines such as dance music and visual art, much of it inspired by the artwork of David Hough from St. Croix, Virgin Islands.

For information about any of the performances, auditions or tickets, call DiBlasi at 770-507-2775.