By Johnny Jackson
The audience's cheers filled the darkened auditorium during intermission, as much as their silence flooded the more intricate scenes of the ballet.
For 10-year-old Xander White, it was his first ballet. "We never really get the chance to ...," said White, a student at Locust Grove Elementary School.
He and some 700 other children watched the front-lit dancers, Elizabeth Ferguson and Christopher Dorsey, as they frolicked about the stage. Ferguson, 16, and Dorsey, 15, are dancers in the Atlanta Festival Ballet's 19th season of performing "The Nutcracker."
On Friday, they joined a cast of more than 100 dancers in the ballet company's annual preview performance at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough. This year's audience included about 650 students from Locust Grove Elementary, and several others from area home-school programs.
Many performers in this year's production are local students, like 8-year-old Sydney Leonard, of Locust Grove Elementary, and 12-year-old Savannah Hood, of Strong Rock Christian School. "We plan to do this every holiday season," said Nichole Hood, Savannah's mother. "She loves the school performances, because the kids are so excited."
She said the performers seem to feed off the energy that student audiences often provide them. "It's great because they get so into it," said Samara Roland, a 22-year-old professional dancer with Atlanta Festival Ballet.
Students at Locust Grove were prepared to receive the full experience of the holiday classic, known as "The Nutcracker Ballet."
In the weeks before the performance, Locust Grove Principal Christi Peterman ordered copies of the book "Story of the Nutcracker Ballet," written by Deborah Hautzig. The book, which retells the story of "The Nutcracker," was given to each class at the school.
Teachers were asked to read it during the school's "reader's workshop" period, held each morning. Teachers also integrated other resources to help teach what the modern ballet performances are about.
"We watched a video and compared it to the book, for instance," said Beth Floyd, a third-grade teacher at Locust Grove. "The purpose - it's for children to be exposed to theater."
"Most of our kids don't get a chance to do something like this," interjected Principal Peterman. "We wanted them to have exposure to a piece of the arts."
Over the course of two weeks, students learned about the history of ballet and the story of "The Nutcracker."
"They even learned what a Nutcracker is; many of them didn't know," said Te-Ann Simon, a Title I coordinator at the school. We wanted them to know what they would be watching. In 'The Nutcracker,' nothing is spoken, everything is expressed through pantomime. We wanted this to be a learning experience for them - a rich experience."
"The Nutcracker" will be presented today and Sunday at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, located at 37 Lemon Street in McDonough. Today's performance will begin at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday's at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are available now at the Henry County Chamber of Commerce in McDonough, the Morrow Tourist Center in Morrow, Moye's Pharmacies in Henry County, and the Atlanta Festival Ballet in Stockbridge. Costs are $6 for children, age 5 and under; $12 for students and seniors, and $15 for adults. For more information, call (770) 957-5786.
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