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PHOTO BY HUB WILLSON Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley-Pennsylvania Youth Ballet PHOTO BY HUB WILLSON Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley-Pennsylvania Youth Ballet "Nutcracker," 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 16, Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem

Ballet Guild 'Nutcracker' tradition continues with acclaimed soloists

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 by JESSICA KROOPE Special to The Press in Focus

The Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley-Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (BGLV-PYB) presented the Lehigh Valley's first "Nutcracker" production in 1968, a beloved holiday tradition which continues to this day.

This season's production, 2 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16, Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, features world-class guest artists Ashley Bouder, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, and Matthew Dibble, dancer with Twyla Tharp Company, as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier, respectively.

Bouder is known for dancing with graceful athleticism. "Her dancing is enthralling. She takes risks on stage and transports the audience," says BGLV-PYB Artistic Director Karen Kroninger Knerr.

Other guest performers include Jesse Sani of Ballet X as the Mouse King and former Allentown Mayor William Heydt as Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara's magical uncle.

They are joined by a cast of approximately 70 talented dancers who have dedicated 15 hours per week since the end of September for rehearsals including 10 hours of ballet class per week.

Says Knerr, "There are many aspects of the production that I am excited about this year. We have students stepping into soloist roles, some for the first time, and our guest artists are incredible dancers.

"The choreography is always changing as the dancers grow technically and artistically. For the first time, a PYB student, Ava Gilotti, will be dancing the role of Snow Queen.

"I've created a new role, "Little Polichinelles," for two young aspiring six-year-olds, who have new costumes. Additionally, the role of Dewdrop, danced by Colleen Reed or Rachel Altemose [depending on which day's performance], has a new tutu created just for them."

BGLV-PYB performs the "Nutcracker" for nearly 4,000 area school students during four school performances on the three days leading up to the public performances.

More than 1,000 of those students are invited to the performances free-of-charge, thanks to grants from sponsors for disadvantaged students. For many of these students, the "Nutcracker" is the first live production they have ever experienced, and many have reported it as one of the highlights of their elementary school experience.

"'Nutcracker' appeals to everyone. For some, it's a holiday tradition, and for the young children, it's a magical treat," says Knerr.

Alexi Ramov directed the Lehigh Valley's first "Nutcracker" production in 1968.

Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. was founded by Marjorie Berlin Fink in 1958 and is the umbrella organization for the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet school and performing company.

Fink invited Ramov, former dancer with the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo, to be the second artistic director, succeeding James Fender. Ramov served in that capacity for more than 30 years.

Mireille Briane and Oleg Briansky were named artistic directors in 1994, and served through 2006. Knerr was named artistic director in 2007.

A "Nutcracker Suite & Treats" family reception takes place immediately after the Dec. 15 performance. Guests can meet the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier, as well as other "Nutcracker" cast members, while enjoying drinks and refreshments and bidding on holiday raffle items in the benefit for BGLV-PYB.