he TJC Academy of Dance is celebrating their 20th anniversary production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” with two firsts: a performance on the Cowan Center stage and collaboration with the East Texas Symphony Orchestra.

After two years of negotiations and planning, the Academy of Dance and the ETSO agreed in August that two performances of “The Nutcracker” would be held at the UT-Tyler Cowan Center on Dec. 6.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, let’s do it with live music,'” said Jennifer Bailey, Director of the TJC Academy of Dance and director of “The Nutcracker” for the past seven seasons. “Most companies and schools nowadays can’t afford live musical accompaniment, so it’s very rare to see dance performances with an orchestra, and I’m glad that we were able to put this together.”

“It is a great pleasure to join forces with Tyler Junior College and the Academy of Dance in this collaboration that marks our 65th concert season and the college’s 20th anniversary production,” ETSO Executive Director Nancy Wren said. “It’s a wonderful crescendo to our ongoing relationship and a unique opportunity to bring our audiences together and provide a rich cultural experience for families in East Texas.”

“It’s exciting,” said Ashley Blevins, a sophomore dancer who also performed last year. “This year we have an orchestra, so it’ll be more professional. We’ll also be on the Cowan stage, so it’s going to be a difference experience.”

Bailey believes that the greatest achievement is that, for the students, the event will be the first time they have performed with live music.

The students that are involved in the production, for most of them, will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bailey said. “They get to dance on the Cowan Center stage, which is much bigger than our own stage. So that’s also a treat for them, as well.”

This year, the two guest artists that will be filling the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier will be Christa and Shannon Beacham from Fort Worth. The Beachams have danced for Texas Ballet Theater and currently teach at several studios in the Fort Worth area. Christa Beacham has collaborated with Bailey and taught students at TJC in recent years. The guest artists also teach a master class for the advanced dance students.

Dance students will also perform an abbreviated version of the ballet for two “school shows” that will be available to students in grades K-12 and home-schooled children within a 30-mile radius on Dec. 5. The hour-long performances include a narrator and give a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of a stage production. Study guides are sent to the schools to help younger students understand the plot.

“We figure it’s a great way to educate and recruit for TJC,” Bailey said.

Ticket sales begin Nov. 3, and prices for the 2 p.m. matinee range from $16-$21. Prices for the 7:30 p.m. performance for students range from $16.50-$32, and $33-$64 for non-students. Tickets can only be purchased through the Cowan Center, by going online to cowancenter.org or by calling the box office at 903-566-7424.

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