Young Alex Millhollin will participate in an annual Christmas tradition when he dances in four performances of the Atlanta Festival Ballet's (AFB) "The Nutcracker."
Alex, 11, of Locust Grove, will be part of the 80-member cast of the production, despite a medical condition making it difficult to interact with others. The child, a sixth-grader at Dutchtown Middle School, was diagnosed with autism more than nine years ago.
Alex will play a party boy during today's performances of the play, scheduled for 10 a.m., and 2:30 p.m., at Community Bible Church in Stockbridge. He will play the same role for two additional performances, scheduled for 2:30 p.m., and 7 p.m., on Dec. 18, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, in McDonough.
The youngster became interested in the Christmas play as a baby, watching his older sister, Emma, now 13, as she danced in "The Nutcracker" production.
"His sister started when she was three, so his first performance that he went to, was when he was one," said Melissa Oglesby, Alex's mother, and the stage director for AFB. "He has gone to them for the last 11 years. He's been to all the performances, and her DVDs, he plays them over and over."
While his mother talked on Friday, before the dress rehearsal, Alex settled himself comfortably into an overstuffed chair in the living room, popped a CD into the television, and began watching a pre-recorded performance of "The Nutcracker."
The opportunity to perform in the role of a party boy will help him interact with others, said Oglesby.
"With autism, one of the biggest things is that, it's a neurological disease, [and] they don't connect with others. This helps him connect," she said.
Two-thirds of "The Nutcracker" cast is comprised of children, some of whom Alex knows, continued Oglesby. "The Atlanta Festival Ballet is entertaining, and you really know each other, and he's been accepted into the fold. He comes to the studio, he sees them dancing. That's been half of his life, going to the studio, and going to performances," she said.
Oglesgot her son involved in the production earlier this year when she spoke to Jocelyn Buchanan, AFB's Associate Artistic Director.
Buchanan, whose 10-year-old son Tristan is also autistic, said she understands the obstacles Alex faces.
"It wasn't a challenge, not for me, because I am so aware of the situation," she said.
When rehearsals began, Buchanan said she slowly eased Alex into each scene, working with the youth to teach him the choreography of being on-stage with the other children in the play. She coached him on how to ride a stick horse across the studio, then how to run across the studio blowing a horn.
The artistic director said she wants Alex to have good memories of his on-stage performances. "We're taking every step we can to make sure this is a really awesome experience for him," added Buchanan.