In the minutes leading up to “The Nutracker’s” premiere 2016 performance Amelia Pelton, the production’s artistic director, is out among the seats of Russell Auditorium greeting audience members. She’s easy to spot in her festive red sequined jacket adorned with a glittering holiday wreath broach. What you can’t tell by the smile and twinkle in her eyes is that, just minutes before, she was putting out a thousand fires.
Pelton works tirelessly to bring the cast of 240 people ranging from ages three and older for a single weekend of magic. And there’s a lot that can go wrong and often does; stage fright, injuries, toddlers who don’t want to leave their parents, flu season and kids stressed because of exams.
But on this particular premiere, Georgia College President Steve Dorman is waiting in the audience to give a little bit of that magic that she’s worked 20 years to create, back to her in the form of a Community Engagement Award.
“The award recognizes her years of service as a teacher, dedication to enhancing the performing arts on campus and development of successful community events, such as ‘The Nutcracker’,” said Dance Professor and Production Manager Natalie King. As part of her outreach efforts, Pelton’s dancers provide free dance classes to underprivileged children at The Boys & Girls Club and at local schools, as well as annual performances at local nursing homes and the Georgia War Veteran’s Home.
“This is something that Dr. Dorman wants,” said Pelton. “He wants us out doing that so that we aren’t just a little capsule here at Georgia College. We want to reach out and engage with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Kiwanis, Rotary. We’re constantly going out and bringing dance to people.”
All of that outreach culminates year after year in a three-day marathon of performances of Tchaikovsky’s timeless ballet, “The Nutcracker,” which is a gargantuan effort that begins planning for the next year immediately following the current year’s production.
“Russell was built as a lecture hall in 1910 with no dressing rooms whatsoever,” Pelton said. This means that two classes of ballerinas are preparing in the dressing rooms in Lanier Hall while all the children are camped out in the hallways of both floors with their parents on blankets that they practically live on throughout the show’s run.
“They kind of move in for the weekend. It’s a well-oiled machine. We’ve been doing this for so long.” Some of the dancers have been with the production for so long, in fact, that they’ve grown up with it, beginning as one of the three-year-old mice and staying with the production well into their twenties. “All of our seniors and some college students have been in it since they were three-years-old. A lot of them come to college here because they don’t want to give up dance,” Pelton said.
King echoed those sentiments, “People return because of the relationships they build with one another through performance preparation, not because of the number of pirouettes they have learned to execute,” she said.
“We invest in enriching children’s lives and even encourage a few adults to reconnect with their own childhoods. We stay relevant because we are not steeped in tradition alone, but rather the tradition of innovation.”
The development of the Community Engagement Award doesn’t just recognize the efforts of Pelton, but of the long-lasting relationship built between the Department of Theatre and Dance and the local community,“I would rather say that we got the award,” said Pelton, “dance got it.”