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Gwinnett ballerina wins Princess Grace Award

On Wednesday, at New York City's "Cipriati 42rd Street," Gwinnett native Alessandra Ball was rubbing elbows with the likes of CNN's Larry King, King Albert of Monaco and dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov. On that evening, Ball was one of only five dancers in the United States, and the only female, to receive the prestigious Princess Grace Award in dance for 2005.

Ball is a graduate of Greater Atlanta Christian School and received her dance training with Gwinnett Ballet Theatre. She joined 23 other artists who received Princess Grace Awards. In addition to those awards presented in dance, others were honored for their contributions in film and theater.

The award itself was presented to Alessandra by King Albert, son of the Princess Grace Awards' inspiration, former actress Grace Kelly. Upon Princess Grace's death in 1982, a foundation was created to support young artists working in the United States in these three categories, assisting the career development of emerging artists by recognizing their promise and dedication to excellence in their chosen fields.

During this year's award ceremony, emceed by King, ballet great Baryshnikov received the first Prince Rainier III award for his outstanding contribution to the arts.

Ball has performed with North Carolina Dance Theatre for the past three years. She received her pre-professional training from GBT's artistic director Lisa Sheppard-Robson, who accompanied Ball to New York City to the award ceremony. This is not Ball's first internationally recognized award. Three years ago, she won third place in the Prix de Roma as the only representative of the United States and the only female to medal. She was also given the Grishko Prize for charm and elegance at that event.

Now she is happy to be dancing with North Carolina Dance Theatre. Under the leadership of president and artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux with associate artistic directors Patricia McBride and Jerri Kumery, North Carolina Dance Theatre has established itself as one of the finest mid-size dance companies in the United States.

Sheppard-Robson says of her protege: "Alex is the quintessential ballerina. She epitomizes the qualities, traits and characteristics of an exquisitely versatile dancer who engages the audience with poise, elegance and artistry. She is uniquely talented and gifted. I am not surprised that she is being selected from the hundreds of nominees and recognized for this prestigious award."

As GBT focuses itself for a banner year of growth, board Chairman Stan Hall gave Ball high praise.

"The fact that Alex received this award is indicative not only of her talents as an artist but more of her overall personality," he said. "She is a beautiful young woman on the stage as well as off. She has been and continues to be an excellent role model for so many young dancers who dream that one day they, too, will be a professional ballerina.

"Gwinnett Ballet Theatre is proud to boast of Alex as an alumna. She will always be a vital part of our family and will always have a special place in our hearts."

For more information on Gwinnett Ballet Theatre or its upcoming productions of "The Nutcracker" and spring concert, please call 770-978-0188 or visit www.gwinnettballet.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail hcalmes@mindspring.com.