Locals no longer have to rely on seeing dancing sugarplums in their heads near Christmastime - they can see them on stage.
The Allegheny Ballet Company will present its 30th annual production of "The Nutcracker" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, featuring both professional dancers and local talent in the ballet's traditional cast of characters.
Jennifer Bryan, artistic director for the ABC, said little changes are made each year to make this annual production "fresh and new."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Kristin Cowger, 14, portrays a ballerina doll, Jamal Mallad plays Herr Drosselmeyer and Amelia Woodcock, 14, plays a soldier in Allegheny Ballet Company’s “The Nutcracker.”
"The major thing is our guest artists," Bryan said. "The main reason for bringing in professional dancers is for our student body. It's an opportunity that they otherwise would never have, to be on stage with that sort of caliber and talent."
This year's guest artists are Jamie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici, who are both principal dancers from the New York City Ballet. They will play the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Bryan said.
For the nearly 70 student dancers involved in "The Nutcracker," dancing alongside professional dancers and learning how they approach their artistry and technique is a good learning experience, Bryan added.
If you go
What: Allegheny Ballet Company's 30th anniversary production of "The Nutcracker"
When: 7:30 p.m.Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. Dec. 18
Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona
Details: Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for seniors and $12 for children under 12 years old.
"It's a lesson they can't get in the classroom," she said.
Cristin Burwell, chairwoman of faculty for the ABC and co-director of "The Nutcracker," said for the students who aspire to make it in the world of professional ballet, it's good to see "how good they have to be" by interacting with the guest artists, who have appeared in movies and toured around the world. She added the professionals often end up helping the students in rehearsals.
"That means the world to them, to have a dancer of that caliber taking an interest in helping them," she said.
ABC students spend countless hours in rehearsal for "The Nutcracker," with older girls coming in five to seven days a week in the weeks before opening night, Bryan said.
"It's very labor intensive," she said. "But what's ironic is if they have a night off, they complain. They absolutely love it."
Practice is important for the annual ballet, as the students perform the same choreography as dancers from professional companies across the country. Bryan said the students are also held to a professional standard, and already being familiar with the rigors of "The Nutcracker" is good experience for those who hope to go on to make ballet their career.
"It's not just your everyday sort of recital dancing," Bryan said. "It truly is the hardest steps they're being asked to perform."
Burwell said the musical score of "The Nutcracker" alone could help get anyone into the holiday spirit. Seeing it performed live in the "gorgeous" Mishler Theatre will also "bring the holiday season to life," she added.
Bryan said the costumes and the sets used in the ABC's production of the ballet draw the audience into the performance as well as help the dancers get into character.
"Once you put on that tutu and step out on stage, it's an indescribable feeling," she said. "You really feel like you're taking on that role, as opposed to when you're in the studio in leotards and tights."
With the festive atmosphere and the chance to support a local nonprofit dance organization, Bryan hopes the community will come out and support the ABC by seeing this production.
"It's important that the community rallies around the local art scene," she said.
Burwell said the talent of both the students and the professional dancers in this year's production of "The Nutcracker" make this a great year to start the tradition of coming to see the ballet.
"It's just so wonderful to take your kids and grandkids and make it a family event," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.