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Southern Ballet Theatre premieres 'Little Match Girl'

The holidays are coming! It's time to shop, party and revel in materialism!

At a time like this, we could all use a reminder of what this season of the year is all about, and Southern Ballet Theatre has just the answer. The Gwinnett nonprofit dance company will premiere a new ballet with a sweet message: "The Little Match Girl" will be presented at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

The story, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, is set in an English village on New Year's Eve where a poor little orphan girl tries to stay alive by selling matches. She is so cold that she is forced to strike match after match to find warmth, and each time she strikes a match she sees a vision of her world as she wishes it could be.

Most of us know this tale, and, although the poor girl dies, the ending is uplifting as the angel of her grandmother comes to take her to heaven. There is a moral in the story for the townspeople who were cruel to her, and there's a message to all of us about the true meaning of mercy and compassion.

The ballet has been choreographed by SBT's own co-artistic director Amy Orr. Anna Szatkowski, a senior at Collins Hill High School, will portray the Little Match Girl. Sarah Hunter, a senior home-schooler, will be the grandmother, and Amara Padovano and Addie Shue dance the roles of the "Flames" of the matches as they are lit.

"'The Little Match Girl' is such a beloved family story with a message of hope and love to begin the coming holiday season," SBT founder and co-artistic director Phyllis Allen said. "We expect it to become a treasured piece of our repertoire."

The remainder of the performance will offer several more contemporary pieces. Shue, one of the Flames in "Match Girl," is also an emerging choreographer. She has created a dance called "What's Your Dream?" that will be presented for the Southeastern Regional Ballet Association this spring.

Orr said of her protege: "Addie has her own eclectic style of movement. It is very upbeat." The piece is for five dancers and set to the music of the group "Casting Crowns."

Also on the program is "Bella Lucia," choreographed by Jeanne Deitrich. The lovely ballet will feature beautiful new costumes, which Orr describes as looking like something Shakespeare's Juliet would wear.

"We went on a buying trip to New York City, and we found these gorgeous beads for these beautiful costumes," she said. The ballet is "a pure dance piece, performed en pointe, featuring music from the movie 'The Notebook.' There is a lot of patterning, and it is very serene and calming," she said.

Rounding out the evening will be a work by yet another emerging choreographer, Brandon Chitwood. The piece, named "Entitled," is performed to music from the movie "Black Hawk Down." The central character is male, and Orr said he is "going off to his duty and having to leave his family behind." The dancing includes jazz and modern movement.

"Brandon is joined by a truly fearless young lady named Brittany Hillyer," Orr said. "They offer the audience some absolutely breathtaking moments."

Tickets for the performances are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors in advance. At the door, the price for adults will be $15. Tickets can be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at 404-249-6400 or by visiting the Gwinnett Center Box Office. Visit SBT's Web site at www.southernballettheatre.org.

E-mail Holley Calmes at hcalmes@mindspring.com.