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ART BEAT: Gwinnett Ballet celebrates 50 'Nutcracker' performances with orchestra

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Special Photo Kendall Greene performs in the snow scene from GBTis "The Nutcracker," which is presented this weekend and next at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center.

The year 2012 has been a busy one for Gwinnett Ballet Theatre, with the big move to the new facility in Lawrenceville and a new artistic director at the helm. This year also marks the 31st year that the nonprofit organization has produced its annual "Nutcracker." In 2006, the company added a live, professional orchestra to accompany its dancers in the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center.

On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., Gwinnett Ballet's "The Nutcracker" will celebrate its 50th performance utilizing the talents of its professional musicians. Led by conductor Predrag Gosta, the orchestra's 35 musicians are some of the brightest professional talents in the Southeast.

Gosta himself has had a whirlwind year, conducting many prestigious orchestras all around the globe. His latest accomplishment before returning for "The Nutcracker" was conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, leading them in works by Rachmaninov and Moussoursky. He is also the founder and music director of Atlanta's acclaimed "New Trinity Baroque Ensemble."

Gosta and the musicians will be honored in a special preshow ceremony at the Saturday matinee.

GBT's "The Nutcracker" is also reflecting the influence of the new Artistic Director Wade Walthall. Although the production is a perennial favorite, carefully crafted changes and refinements are always refreshing.

"We haven't changed very much, but we have given the audience a few new things to see, new costumes and some new choreography," Walthall said. "Most of the changes are in the second act, and I believe the storyline now flows better."

New choreography includes Snow, Russian, Waltz of the Flowers and the Sugarplum pas de deux and its variations, among others.

GBT utilizes three casts and a total of over 130 individuals in the show. The production is the second largest in the metropolitan Atlanta area, with 16 total shows. Five of these performances are outreach shows, and 11 are for the general public. Of these 11, the final eight are performed to live accompaniment. There will be live music for every show now through the last performance on Dec. 16.

Once "The Nutcracker" is over, GBT will only take a short time before it reopens after the holidays with a calendar full of events and auditions.

There will be an open house on Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m. GBT is looking for new young dancers to fill their beautiful new studios located at 1800 Macleod Drive in Lawrenceville. The 20,000-square-foot facility has five large studios and many amenities for dancers, staff and parents. The open house will offer tours, refreshments and the possibility that next year, these new young students will be in "The Nutcracker," too.

Tickets are available for "The Nutcracker" at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center for the remaining eight performances which occur on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are priced for these shows from $19.50 to $29.50 and are available all week at the Gwinnett Center Box office in the Arena building or by visiting any Ticketmaster location. For information, visit www.gwinnettballet.org

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.