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'Nutcracker' ballet takes the stage in Covington

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Rachel Sandman as the Snow Queen and Patrick Faircloth as the Snow King perform in the 2010 "Nutcracker" ballet presented by the Arts Association in Newton County and the Covington Regional Ballet. This year's "Nutcracker" performances are on Saturday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 11.

If You Go

What: "The Nutcracker" ballet

When: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11

Where: Newton High School, 140 Ram Drive in Covington

Cost: Tickets are $20 for adults; $15 for senior citizens; and $5 for children/students, and can be purchased at www.newtoncountyarts.org or by calling 770-786-8188.

A ballet dancer since the age of 3, Ashley Lazenby has a wealth of experience when it comes to "The Nutcracker," Tchaikovsky's timeless holiday classic.

"My very first 'Nutcracker' was when I was in the eighth grade," Lazenby said. "I was in Waltz of the Flowers and the Chinese divertisma. Since then, over my career I've done pretty much everything there is to do in 'Nutcracker.'"

For the Arts Association in Newton County and Covington Regional Ballet's annual presentation of "The Nutcracker," Lazenby will take on a role she's never had before -- as co-director, with Peter Swan, who will also dance the role of Cavalier in the production.

The local "Nutcracker" performances are set for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11. All performances will be held at Porter Hall on the Newton High School campus.

"And if not for my ankle injury, I'd be dancing this year, too," said Lazenby, who trained at Marietta's Ruth Mitchell Dance Theatre (now known as Georgia Metropolitan Dance Theatre) and after her graduation from Kennesaw State spent two years with the Charleston Ballet Theatre. "This is my first shot as a director. Peter and I have choreographed before, but this is our first full-length production as directors.

"It's been a really exciting experience but it comes with a lot of challenges if you were previously a dancer. As a dancer, I had no idea of everything that goes in to making a production. It's been an eye-opening experience and I have come to appreciate all it takes to present 'The Nutcracker' or any other dance production."

The Covington Regional Ballet, which makes its home at Mainstream Dance, located on Covington's downtown Square, will showcase some 30 dancers -- ranging in age from 7 to high-school juniors -- in 'The Nutcracker.' Another 20 dancers not affiliated with the company will also perform, as will several guests artists and parents and patrons who fill the role of partygoers.

Lazenby said that perhaps the biggest hurdle she and Swan have faced is devising the choreography for the 90-minute ballet.

"Creating the material and getting it to the dancers has probably been our biggest challenge," she said. "And we only rehearse on Wednesdays and Saturdays with the company. But the dancers have been incredible. They're all really bright and intelligent and they were up for the challenge, so we've all worked together. We're really proud of it and really excited."

While Lazenby and Swan plan to stick to tried-and-true templates for their "Nutcracker," there are a few new wrinkles included in the performance.

"It's fairly traditional," Lazenby said. "Our battle scene is a little unique, and there are a few surprises... There are a few new set aspects that the audience will see that will add to the magic and the experience. It's hard to mess with 'Nutcracker' unless you plan to put a completely different spin on it. It's the traditional 'Nutcracker' with a few new scenic twists."

Appearing in two snow scenes will be the Oxford Singing Children, a group of young singers under the embrace of the Arts Association.

"We're excited to partner with the Oxford Singing Children," Lazenby said. "Their participation brings our cast to close to 100. Having a choir perform with the dancers is usually something only fairly large companies are able to pull off. We're so excited to be able to have that opportunity."

When the curtain closes on the final performance, the Covington Regional Ballet will take a few weeks off for the holidays and then will begin preparation for its spring ballet, which will include "Alice in Wonderland" and several original repertory pieces. Performances are set for the first week in May 2012.

For more information, visit www.newtoncountyarts.org.