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Atlanta Festival Ballet offers free performance

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

As the Christmas season approaches, the Atlanta Festival Ballet is preparing to perform Peter Tchaikovsky's classic holiday ballet, "The Nutcracker."

In order to spawn interest in what has become an annual tradition in the Southern Crescent, the ballet troop is taking the work from the stage and into the community.

This Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., people will get a free sneak peak of "The Nutcracker" at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Mt. Zion Road in Morrow. For part of the day, the store's cafe area will be cleared away and passers-by will get an up-close-and-personal view of several scenes, performed by the Atlanta Festival Ballet.

While the method of promotion is unconventional, the Stockbridge-based ballet company has been using the Barnes & Nobles as a performance space for several years. Giselle Pugh, director of operations at Atlanta Festival Ballet, said performing at the bookstore challenges the artists, but also provides a memorable way to draw more people to the performance.

"It's kind of a learning experience for them," said Pugh. "They practice several hours a week and they practice on a space that is about the same size as a stage. [Performing at Barnes & Nobles] teaches them to be a little more aware of their space.

"It boosts the audience participation," Pugh continued. "The kids love it because they get to see the performers up close. It's really magical when its up on stage, but when they are right in front of you, it gives you a whole different perspective."

In conjunction with the performance, Barnes & Noble will host a Book Fair from 9 a.m., to 10 p.m., on Saturday. During that time, books on ballet and "The Nutcracker" will be for sale, and a portion of the store's book and cafe sales will go toward supporting the Atlanta Festival Ballet.

Barbara Bird, community relations manager at the Mt. Zion Barnes & Noble, said that in her nearly nine years at the store, the ballet has performed in the store every year. She said it is something the employees and community have come to look forward to.

"It begins the holidays for us," said Bird. "It's something you can see over and over and you can still feel the magic. All of our customers stop what they are doing because you can't help but listen to the music."

Bird said the store typically hosts a storybook reading on Saturday mornings and that the ballet is a big draw for small children. "Some of the girls get really interested in becoming a ballerina when they see the performance," said Bird. "They can see the work that goes into it and the discipline they have to have."

Pugh hopes the performance will attract people who might not normally make it to the ballet. "If we can catch some people who are just having a coffee or coffee cake, it will leave a much bigger impression than getting some flier," said Pugh.

Atlanta Festival Ballet will perform "The Nutcracker" at 2:30 p.m., on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 29-30, at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center in Jonesboro. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $6 for children aged five and under. For more information, call (770) 507-2775, or visit www.atlantafestivalballet.com.