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PHOTO BY ERIC FEINSTEIN Meredith Johnson, Parkland High School senior, as Clara, Repertory Dance Theatre, PHOTO BY ERIC FEINSTEIN Meredith Johnson, Parkland High School senior, as Clara, Repertory Dance Theatre, "Nutcracker," 2 p.m. Dec. 14, 15, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Dreams come true in RDT 'Nutcracker'

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by JENNIFER McKEEVER Special to The Press in Focus

Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) graces the stage of Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown, for its 27th annual presentation of "Nutcracker," 2 p.m. Dec. 14, 15, with the return of Carolina Ballet Theatre's dance alum Matthew Harvey as the Cavalier and partner Madeline Jazz, also of the Carolina Ballet Theatre, portraying the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Also appearing is former American Ballet Theatre and North Carolina Dance Theatre's Sarah James, an alumna of RDT, now dancing for ABT star Craig Salstein's new company Intermezzo.

James performs Dewdrop, which is in the middle of the "Flower Scene."

"This is where they helped make my dreams come true," says James of her growing up dancing in RDT's "Nutcracker."

RDT Artistic Director Jennifer Haltzman-Tracy and former Joffrey Ballet star Trinette Singleton, RDT Co-Artistic Director, have created new choreography, including "Candy Cane," Arabian," Spanish," Soldier," "Pierrot" (the dancer-puppets that Herr Drosselmeyer brings to life in the "Party Scene") and the trio between the Nutcracker, Herr Drosselmeyer and Clara.

New sets, new choreography and even new costumes make for a refreshed, enhanced and invigorating "Nutcracker."

The Allentown Symphony Orchestra, conducted by ASO Associate Conductor Ronald Demkee for 13 years, is a big part of RDT's "Nutcracker."

"Our history with Ron Demkee of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, along with our guest artists, provides musicians and dancers with a fluency that translates across the footlights to the audience, giving the choreography another dimension," says Haltzman-Tracy.

"Ron Demkee knows the choreography after 13 years and makes it smooth when it is all put together," says Haltzman-Tracy.

"Every year, I get excited by how the students have progressed and have taken on new roles," observes Haltzman-Tracy. "There is a continuity, but it's not stale, because the dancers are growing," Haltzman-Tracy says. A cast of 90 features dancers from throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Alternating in the role of Clara are Meredith Johnson, a senior at Parkland High School, and Allison Lubzanski, a senior at Emmaus High School.

Miles Weber, senior at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, performs the role of the Nutcracker. Herr Drosselmeyer is portrayed by Eric Feinstein for the 12th season. Allen High School senior Brielle Gemberling alternates with Emmaus sophomore Chloe Lawrence in the role of the Snow Queen.

"There is something special about watching the seniors preparing to perform their last 'Nutcracker' with RDT," Haltzman-Tracy says wistfully.

Live vocal music in the "Snow Scene" is performed by the Women's Touring Choir of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School For the Arts under the direction of David Macbeth.

A highlight of RDT's "Nutcracker" is the work of lighting designer Peter Leonard, who has created lighting for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, among others. There is an interesting twist in the "Arabian Dance" using drapes, which the three women use to create an illusion.

"There are people that travel from Florida to be a part of the production," Haltzman-Tracy notes.

School matinee performances are Dec.12 and 13.

The audience has a chance to meet the cast at the "Land of Sweets" party following the Dec. 14 matinee.

Tickets: allentownsymphony.org, 610-432-6715