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PHOTO BY HUB WILLSON Pennsylvania Youth Ballet-Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley, PHOTO BY HUB WILLSON Pennsylvania Youth Ballet-Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley, "Nutcracker," 1, 4 p.m. Dec. 14; 2 p.m. Dec. 15, Zoellner Arts Center, Bethlehem

PYB's 45th 'Nutcracker' music goes live

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

The Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (PYB) Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley celebrates the 45th year of its staging of the "Nutcracker" with an orchestra of 45 musicians, The South Side Sinfonietta, directed by Eugene Albulescu, along with a chorus of 20 children, the Nutcracker Treble Choir, led by choral director Christine Lerew.

PYB's "Nutcracker" is at 1, 4 p.m. Dec. 14, and 2 p.m. Dec. 15, Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center, 420 E. Packer Avenue, Bethlehem.

"The highlight this year is the orchestra and the chance to dance to live music," says PYB artistic director Karen Knerr.

"The ballet is meant to be seen with live music. It's been a wonderful artistic collaboration between Albulescu and myself," adds Knerr.

The nuances and styles with tempo for the dramatics of the music takes precedence during two rehearsals with the orchestra.

Other embellishments for this year's performance are a "growing" 24-foot-high Christmas tree and new choreography, as well as period costumes for many, including Herr Drosselmeyer, who is performed by David McCormack, owner of American Hairlines who danced the role of the Prince years ago.

Knerr says, "McCormack had a moment of 'deja vu' with tears in his eyes.

"The 'Nutcracker' is a tradition and, hopefully, will bring the families of the Lehigh Valley to experience an extra special evening of high-caliber and fine-tuned dancers of the school because they have improved, being stronger and older and ultimately will dance to live music" says Knerr.

The choreography evolves each year based on the students' skills. This year, in particular, the students have advanced to perform with versatility in many of the leading roles. The Snow Queen is portrayed by Elizabeth Sollog-Holowchuk, a soloist of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and also a member of the school's faculty.

The Sugar Plum Fairy will be danced by Aynsley Inglis, a soloist with Ballet Centro del Conocimiento, Posadas, Argentina. The Cavalier in the pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy will be performed by Vitali Krauchenka, who has danced all over the world: The National Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus, The Latvian National Opera, two ballet companies in Canada and the American Ballet Theatre.

The PYB "Nutcracker" choreography is loosely based on that of the late Russian Alexi Ramov, who directed PYB for more than 30 years and produced the company's first "Nutcracker" in 1968. Knerr draws from the original inspiration and adds her own expertise and touch to recent productions.

The most significant change in the choreography is the "Arabian Dance," performed as a pas de deux by returning artist Stephaen Hood with students Madeleine Brown and Corinne Walden.

The lead Candy Cane will be executed by Andrij Cybyk, who is Ukrainian by heritage, and who also plays the role of the Mouse King. "We are very excited to have him back," Knerr says.

A walnut shell boat escorts the young Clara, performed alternately by Elizabeth Lee and Jordyn Zweitolitz, and her Prince to the "Land of Sweets" in the "Nutcracker," a perennial holiday treat.

Children who've never seen a live ballet performance will have their moment this year because the school performances are nearly sold out to 4,000 students. PYT raised the funds to provide transportation for the students.

"We have had overwhelming support from the community," says Knerr.

Tickets: zoellnerartscenter.org, 610-758-2787