Celebrating 50 years
After the curtain closed on the final 2018 season matinee performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Zoellner Arts Center Dec. 16, cast, crew and supporters gathered for a special cast party hosted at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. Nearly 250 guests celebrated 50 years of consecutive Lehigh Valley performances of the seasonal ballet scored by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
In 1968, the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley (BGLV) and Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (PYB) brought “The Nutcracker” to the stage at Allentown Symphony Hall. It premiered under the direction of Alexi Ramov. Several cast members from that 1968 production and other past performances returned for the 50th Anniversary Nutcracker Celebration.
A few of them also returned to the stage for the 2018 season, including Bethlehem resident Margo Clifford Ging. She took on the role as Grandmother in the most recent performances. Ging recalled dancing as Dew Drop in the first BGLV Nutcracker.
Dave McCormack performed in 1968 as a party boy, then graduated to the Prince. He later played Herr Drosselmeyer. McCormack was onstage in 2018 in a recurring role as a party guest. He is co-owner of American Hairlines in downtown Bethlehem.
Marguerite Irvine Knoblick from Northampton was also a dancer in the 1968 Nutcracker premier and afterward in various roles, including an Arabian solo, the Snow Queen, and a ballerina in “Waltz of the Flowers.” She said that back then, “My mom and my aunt helped do all the costuming.”
Dolores McKenna brought along her collection of newspaper clippings and other Lehigh Valley Nutcracker memorabilia to share with the party guests. Her adult daughter, Suzanne McKenna, credited her mom for being the one who “brought me to the world of ballet.” Suzanne had played Clara and other roles as a child, her favorites being Snow Queen and Dew Drop. She had at one time served on the board and returned later to be Mrs. Stahlbaum for a season. Both live in Salisbury Township and continue to support the guild.
It’s a family affair with the Lovells as well. Parkland HS sophomore Olivia Lovell performed as the lead ballerina in the “Coffee from Arabia” scene. She has been dancing with the Ballet Guild for 10 years. Her mother Amanda is a board member, and her father, Ian, portrayed Dr. Stahlbaum and Mother Ginger during the 2018 season.
Kristopher and Joyce Yoder worked onstage and behind the scenes for “The Nutcracker.”
When not playing Herr Drosselmeyer, Yoder teaches “Acting for the Dancer” courses for the BGLV. His wife, a board member and lifelong ballet dancer, portrayed Mrs. Stahlbaum. They live in West Allentown.
Bethlehem residents Thomas Royer and his wife Carol joined in the celebration. Royer had been a cast member of the local Nutcracker productions from 1969-75. Director Alexi Ramov recruited him as a dancer when young Thomas tagged along with his mother when she picked up his sister from ballet lessons. Although he played tackle on the school football team, Royer was teased relentlessly for his involvement in ballet. He said, “The peer pressure from other kids and my brothers made me back out of it.”
Royer said he was involved in sports with his sons. He became interested in magic as something to share with his daughter. “Trickster Tom” was his stage name and they created a magic act together. “Performing was in my blood and I like performing,” he said.
Pennsylvania Youth Ballet President Jennifer Altemose introduced Bethlehem Area School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy as the honorary chairman for the 50th anniversary production. She credited Roy with assisting her in making the annual Nutcracker performances available to all Bethlehem area fifth graders following an economic downturn, when the district could no longer afford to bus the students to the venue. Transportation and other costs are now covered by donations from area businesses and individuals.
Roy opined that it was beneficial for district students to experience a live performance of the Nutcracker every year. “This is important because of the selfie. That’s to say the selfie era,” explained Roy, adding, “Before the advent of the selfie, pictures were actually taken, think of it, of other people, not of yourself.” He asked, “How many of us walk around looking at our phones rather than the world around us?”
Roy said the antidote to cell phone addiction is live artistic performances.
“Live performances command our attention away from ourselves,” he said as he thanked the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet for enabling all to “enjoy the beauty around us.”
Altemose expressed gratitude to the PYB board and all those who made the annual Nutcracker productions possible, including a long list of sponsors. She thanked Pennsylvania Ballet guest artists Lillian DiPiazza and Ian Hussey, guest artist Trevin Johnson, PYB faculty, Artistic Director Karen Knerr, living room set designer Carl Sprague, costume designer Kristin Dundon, and Music Director Eugene Albulescu, among others. Hub Willson was honored for 35 years of photographing Nutcracker productions.
The Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley is a local nonprofit dedicated to supporting ballet and dance through education and performances.