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ART BEAT: Sugarloaf Performing Arts offers the 'Nativity Ballet'

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Special Photo Jennifer Mullins portrays Mary in Sugarloaf Ballet's "Nativity Ballet" Dec. 6 and 7 at the Tabernacle International Church in Lawrenceville.

Sugarloaf Ballet, a part of Sugarloaf Performing Arts, is offering the community a free performance as a "gift of dance" for this holiday season. On Dec. 6 and 7 at 7 p.m., the ballet company will present the "Nativity Ballet" at the Tabernacle International Church in Lawrenceville. There are no tickets as the event is free to the public.

This ballet started as a small portion of the ballet's production of "The Little Match Girl" in 2006. The 15 minute excerpt has since grown into the full length experience it is this year. Sugarloaf Ballet's Artistic Director, Lori Zamzow-Wire, believes the ballet is an extension of her own childhood experiences and of watching companies such as Ballet Magnificat! and Ad Deum Dance Company.

"I've been blessed to dance in Christmas musicals for every church my family attended since the age of 10," Zamzow-Wire said. "I grew up in dance ministry."

From its 15 minute segment beginnings, "Nativity Ballet" is now a full length production with 40 dancers participating. The ballet highlights the familiar stories of Christmas such as the Angel's visit to Mary and the arrival of the Wise Men after Jesus' birth.

In addition to the use of classical ballet techniques, the production also incorporates contemporary and modern influences movement. Holiday music is also used by including such pieces as "The Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Four new pieces have been included. They are "Little Drummer Boy," "Gesu Bambino," "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and a male solo in "Sweet Little Jesus Boy."

Sugarloaf Ballet is excited to have many new male dancers this year, and Company Director Michelle Bourgeois seized the opportunity to display their strength by choreographing "Go Tell It On the Mountain" which is an all male modern piece.

The part of Mary is a particularly important one, and filling this role is Jennifer Mullins, a member of Sugarloaf Ballet's college company and a junior at Kennesaw State University. This will be Jennifer's third consecutive year as Mary. She was chosen for her classical ballet technical abilities and her passion for the "Nativity Ballet."

The other dancers will have many roles to fill as well. There are choruses of angels, a "Silent Night" group piece and children sharing their love for dance in "Away in a Manger." The ballet culminates in an energetic demonstration that is sure to leave audiences excited about the real reason for the season.

The "Nativity Ballet" is a gift to the community.

"Free performances are our way of giving back to the community," Zamzow-Wire said. "We want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the joy of Christmas."

Sugarloaf Performing Arts is a nonprofit organization located in Duluth at 1140 Old Peachtree Road. The group performs three full length productions per year, including a "Family Classic" in October, the "Nativity Ballet" in December and a "Youth Concert Series" in January. For more information, call 770-476-0025.

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