JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The holiday fantasy “The Nutcracker” will have Clara and her Nutcracker prince dancing their way through the classical ballet.

Performances will be presented by the Johnstown Concert Ballet at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus in Richland Township.

Community event

Bethany Thomas, the company’s artistic director, said “The Nutcracker” is not only a tradition for the company, but also for the community.

“We (the Johnstown Concert Ballet) will be at an event in the middle of summer, or I’ll be out in public, and I’ll be asked if we will be doing ‘The Nutcracker’ this year, so the community really looks forward to it in a way that we do, too,” she said.

“We all really enjoy doing it and bringing it to our community. It’s a nice Christmas gift that we can all give to each other.”

Thomas said she incorporates some changes to the ballet each year to give it a fresh look for audiences.

“We try to adjust costumes every year so there’s something new to look forward to,” she said.

“We also change the choreography subtly, as we have this tradition starting from my predecessor’s work with Carla (Prucnal).

“I don’t want to change things dramatically or re-choreograph the entire ballet, but I can tweak things and make the choreography a little bit different so it’s not the same exact show where you could buy a DVD and watch.”

Magical ballet

Thomas said people continue to be drawn to “The Nutcracker” because it’s such a magical ballet.

“It’s a ballet about a little girl on Christmas, and she has this dream about a land with a prince, and it’s made of candy, and it’s sweet and wonderful,” she said.

“It’s incredibly family-friendly and easy to understand. It’s a heartwarming time of year, and seeing this ballet about a girl having these wonderful Christmas dreams is so exciting.”

This year, company alumni have been invited to take part in the ballet’s party scene.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our alumni support,” Thomas said.

“I think ‘The Nutcracker’ has such a special place in dancer’s hearts and it means so much. I’ve had girls tell me it doesn’t feel like Christmas without it, so alumni really enjoy coming back and getting to experience that again.”

Coveted role

The coveted role of Clara will be performed by Helena Kycko, a sophomore at United High School, and Josie Hill, a seventh-grader at Westmont Hilltop High School.

“The Claras are working so hard and are so dedicated,” Thomas said.

“They have embraced the role. They have been learning choreography and practicing on their own. If they get a note, they’re writing it down in notebooks to make sure they remember it.”

Pittsburgh dancer Carson Russo will dance the role of the prince.

Zane Kendig and Chase Bennethum landed the comedic role of Clara’s brother, Fritz.

Professional dancers from Pittsburgh will have some of the principal roles.

They include Geneive Robinson, Sugar Plum; Ernest Tolentino, Drosselmyer; and Jailen Riley and James Streit, Coffee/Spice dancers.

Father Christmas will be portrayed by John Barnes.

Other roles will be danced by members of the community.

Female guests are Alexandra D’Arrigo, Jeanne Arcurio, Shannon Ford, Julia Kane, Heather Mack, Kara Miller, Eileen Pears, Karen Soliday, Samantha Stevanus, Tiffany Taha, Sarah Teich and Nicole Zajdel.

Male guests include Isaac Berkey, Jeff Boback, Damian Byer, Jay Kycko, William Marsh, Nathaniel Mikula, Tyler Stevanus, Basil Taha, Jude Taha, Alan Teich, John Wozniak and Ray Zwick.

Senior company members are Lena Bennethum, Ava Berkey, Bella Dixon, Meara Gleason, Josie Hill, Helena Kycko, Taylor Ling, Haley Mosorjak, Lucia Niida, Ivy Peterman, Regan Reynolds, Alana Respet, Olivia Tallari and Tia Yannitelli.

Junior company members are Chase Bennethum, Zane Kendig, Meradi Knapp, Hazel Peterman, Emily Thompson, Kaelyn Deater, Mackenzie Kendig, Senya Malcolm, Angelica Marsh, Jordyn Oherrick, Alaina Tallari, Abigail Graham, Addison Greenwell, Jocelyn Furdella, Laci Hutchinson, Havana Kycko, Sophia Krum, Emerson Manges, Raeleigh McKool, Saige Myers, Elizabella Stevanus, Margaret Zajdel, Lillian Kendig, Aurora Krupa, Adeline Lokesak, Emma Mack, Isla Paskowski, Hannah Saylor, Alivia Cole, Peyton Hutchison, Harper Salat, Shelby Salat, Leyton Smalley, Shionna Smith, Aubriella Stevanus, Sophia Botka, Leia Carrick and Catherine Strom.

Thomas said the dancers have been working hard to present top-notch performances.

‘Big finale piece’

“They’ve been learning dances very quickly,” she said.

“ ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ is our big finale piece and it usually takes me a couple of weeks to teach it, but we finished it in three classes where the girls knew all the choreography and where they’re supposed to be. The dancers have been taking it seriously and they are doing so well with it.”

Thomas added that people who see the shows will be impressed at the quality of the performances.

‘Incredible talent’

“We have an incredible amount of talent in Johns-town, from our community members to our alumni to our dancers who are training,” she said.

“About 90% of this ballet comes from right out of this area and that is really amazing.”

Thomas hopes that audiences will feel the joy of Christmas when watching the ballet.

“I hope they continue to experience this holiday magic and enjoy it with us,” Thomas said.

“We want to continue to be something people love to come see around the holidays.”

Tickets are $22 and can be purchased by calling 814-536-7599 or online at www.johnstownconcertballet.org.

Kelly Urban is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. She can be reached at (814) 532-5073. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.

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