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Ballet company hopes to draw sell-out crowds

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Members of the Atlanta Festival Ballet are hopeful they will perform in front of sell-out audiences this weekend, during their annual production of the classic ballet, "The Nutcracker."

"I would love a sell-out," said Judi Peterson, executive director of the Stockbridge-based ballet company.

Peterson, who plays the role of the Duchess in the production, said the ballet saw modest crowds during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at the 1,200-seat Clayton County Performing Arts Center in Jonesboro.

"I had hoped for a larger crowd in Clayton," she said.

Peterson said 352 tickets were sold for the Saturday, Nov. 28, performance, and 357 were sold for the Sunday, Nov. 29, performance.

"I don't doubt that the economy has played a role," she said.

The ballet company typically has better turnouts at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough, added Peterson, partly because it is a much smaller venue.

"In the past, sometimes, we have sold out in Henry," said Peterson. The Henry auditorium seats about 700 audience members.

Area residents, including students from McGarrah Elementary School in Morrow and Bethlehem Elementary School in Locust Grove, will be featured in this weekend's production, alongside professional dancers.

New to the annual production, Peterson said, is the 14 third- and fourth-year ballet students from the Clayton Arts Magnet High School, who were invited to perform with the company this year.

Complete with public school students, professional company dancers, ballet program students and apprentices, and other auditioned, adult dancers, this year's performance promises to be one to remember, according to Gregory Aaron, co-director of the Atlanta Festival Ballet.

"I think what's really exciting is that we have such a compilation of dancers involved," said Aaron, who returns this season as the Nutcracker Prince, after a three-year retirement from the ballet company.

"I think the whole thing coming together is outstanding," he continued. "For our 20th anniversary season, I certainly hope people will be coming through the doors."

This weekend's production will not only mark the 20th season for the ballet company, he said, but it will celebrate the return of two of Atlanta Festival Ballet's retired professionals -- Jocelyn and Bill Buchanan, who have not performed together since 2001. The couple will perform as Clara's parents in "The Nutcracker."

Tickets for this weekend's two performances are still available at various locations in the Southern Crescent : at the Morrow Tourist Center, at all Henry County Moye's Pharmacies, and the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

Tickets may also be purchased at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, located at 37 Lemon Street in McDonough, at $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $6 for children, age 5 and under. Performances will be held Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12 and 13, at 2:30 p.m.

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On the net:

Atlanta Festival Ballet: www.atlantafestivalballet.com