"It's not Christmas without 'The Nutcracker'"

By Johnny Jackson


About 200 hours of rehearsal, and many more in training, will come down to two hours.

They have rehearsed since late September.

But as the nerve-frayed dancers step out onto the vast, brightened stage, they find themselves in a familiar place.

"It's like we're back home," said Hayley Stone, 22. "This is our life. I just love performing ... because I love being on stage and entertaining people."

Stone, a dancer with the Atlanta Festival Ballet Company in Stockbridge, will be one of 75 at the company to present its 18th annual production of "The Nutcracker."

"I like the music," said Ira Cambric, a fellow dancer.

The 24-year-old admitted to being nervous every time he has performed, during his 13 years of dance. "I believe being nervous is healthy, though," he said.

"I'm nervous until I take the first step onto the stage," said dancer, Chelsea Hodges.

Hodges, like Stone, has 20 years experience in dance. "I've been doing it since I was eight," she said. "So, that's how I express myself. I find it very familiar."

Some 200 elementary schoolers will join Hodges on stage this year, more than 100 of them are Clayton County students from J. E. Edmonds Elementary School in Forest Park.

"The whole school is excited," said Rebecca Harrison, the school's principal. "They're excited each and every week. It's giving our boys and girls an opportunity to do what they wouldn't have been able to do before. It's outstanding."

Several Henry County students from Pate's Creek Elementary School in Stockbridge will participate in the production as well.

The Atlanta Festival Ballet Company and its guests will perform on Nov. 24-25 at 2:30 p.m., at the Clayton Performing Arts Center, located 2530 Mt. Zion Pkwy. in Jonesboro.

There will be later performances at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, located at 37 Lemon St., McDonough, on Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m., and on Dec. 16 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and $6 for children under six years old. Tickets are available at the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, at all Moye's Pharmacy locations in Henry County, and at the door.

"The Nutcracker" ballet, composed in the late 19th Century by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, retells E.T.A. Hoffman's story of a German girl named Clara who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince.

Clara encounters many adventures in her dream, before she awakens beneath a Christmas tree beside the object of her fantasy, a toy Nutcracker Prince.

The ballet has become an increasingly popular production for ballet companies and is often linked to Christmas traditions. As Hodges says, "It's not Christmas unless it's 'The Nutcracker.'"


On the net:

Atlanta Festival Ballet: www.atlantafestivalballet.com