Arts come together: ABY 'Nutcracker' to perform with guest dancer, musicians

Nov. 19—ASHLAND — Each year, Ashland Youth Ballet presents "The Nutcracker," and each year, director Maria Whaley finds a way to make it different, for the dancers and for the audience.

This year, the holiday ballet will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Paramount Arts Center; AYB will partner with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra and Kentucky Ballet Theatre for the event.

It's not the first time AYB has worked with the Huntington musicians.

"We performed with them in 2019 for a Star Wars-themed concert at the Paramount and at their winter concert last year," Whaley said. "Last year, we performed an excerpted version of the 'Waltz of the Flowers,' but we've never done a full show with them. So, we are excited!"

Dancers will get one full night of rehearsal with the orchestra before the show.

One of Kentucky Ballet Theatre's dancers will dance the role of the Cavalier in Act II, "The Land of the Sweets."

"Our Sugar Plum Fairy, Ella Detherage, will go to Lexington for coaching and rehearsal," Whaley said.

These kinds of collaborations are crucial to AYB's mission.

"We exist to promote dance in the community and we belong to that community," Whaley said. "There are no trophies or awards for individuals. The AYB dancers are reminded constantly that after hours of class and rehearsal, their reward is the privilege to perform on a stage in a magnificent space with a live orchestra of professional musicians and to be ambassadors for dance and the arts in their schools and community."

Ian Jessee, Director of the Huntington Symphony and conductor Kimo Furumoto, as well as Kentucky Ballet Theatre director Norbe Risco, and his wife, Rafaela, who instructs and designs costuming, have been part of the collaboration to make this year's show possible, Whaley said.

"I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge and thank our growing audience base and our sponsors who allow all of this to happen each year," she said. "I am especially grateful to the Margaret Adkins Trust that provides ongoing funding for our program and its dancers."

School shows are important, too, as many schools offer little in the area of arts. Getting to see live ballet can help fill in those gaps in education.

"To experience live performance — orchestra, dance, staging — for a school show at a school show price is simply unheard of in most areas," Whaley said. "We are extremely blessed with support from patrons who prioritize the arts in education. and as always, for a student to be able to experience live performance in our beautiful performance space, the Paramount Arts Center; it's simply a win, win, win combination."

Of course, dancers benefit greatly by having the chance to dance to live music, an experience usually reserved for professional dancers.

"It challenges them, making them more alert and prepared for their roles," she said. "They know they only have a couple of opportunities to 'get it right.'"