The Statesboro Youth Ballet is trying something a little different this year in hopes of establishing a new holiday tradition.
The group won't perform "The Nutcracker," but instead, a familiar Christmas story will be told through dance: "A Christmas Carol Ballet."
Jurijs Safonovs, artistic director for the Statesboro Youth Ballet at the Averitt Center for the Arts, couldn't hide his excitement when speaking about the upcoming treat for Statesboro residents. The holiday classic based on the Charles Dickens novel is set in Victorian London on Christmas Eve.
Most know the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge (portrayed by Safonovs), whose greedy demeanor and grumpy "Bah, humbug" phrase reveals his intense dislike for the holiday. Through ballet interpretation, the production will tell the tale of how Scrooge meets the ghost of his former business associate Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge that his negative attitude will carry over into the afterlife if he doesn't change. Marley warns Scrooge that three ghosts - Christmas Past, Present and Future - will show him the error of his ways.
Safonovs said the idea to do something different for the holidays was former Averitt Center director Tim Chapman's suggestion, and one he embraced immediately.
While "The Nutcracker" has been an anticipated annual event at the Averitt Center for years, "A Christmas Carol Ballet" promises to be a welcome alternative, he said.
"A lot of people think it is a theater show. In ballet, it hasn't been done often at all," Safonovs said. "We are definitely pioneers in the 'Christmas Carol Ballet' world. When you think of Christmas and winter holidays, you think of 'The Nutcracker.' Of course, it is one of my favorites."
But when Chapman suggested trying something new, Safonovs saw immediately how it would dovetail with his mission to teach ballet to his students. He teaches on three principles, he said: quality training, an emphasis on classical ballet, and a look into the future.
"Ballet can be as powerful as a theatrical production. It can be more expressive than language and connects people from all over the world," he said. "I want to continue to innovate and keep tradition going, as well, and at the same time, introduce it in a new way."
"A Christmas Carol Ballet" should appeal to people because it is "a classic story everybody knows, definitely a story that resonated with everyone who has been introduced to Charles Dickens," he said. "It will definitely be interesting to see it as a ballet version."
Safonovs said ballet's "energy makes life interesting - creative with a purpose." In projects such as this production, he sees potential lessons for his students.
"I see a dancer walk into our doors, knowing very little about ballet as an art form, and see them get more educated and engulfed in such a beautiful and spiritual art form," he said.
Safonovs is not only involved in the ballet as a producer; he also will play the character of Scrooge. As a dancer, he said he enjoys getting into the story and hopes to see Statesboro become even more enthusiastic about such events.
He is one of six professional dancers in the ballet; there are about 50 actors and students involved, too.
Being both director of and actor in the ballet is a challenge, but it is one that he enjoys, he said.
"It is an exciting challenge," he said. "There are times I wish I could step out and see what I have created. At the same time, I have to see myself from the perspective as director and the audience."
Dancing on stage helps him to be a better producer, he said.
"Being part of the cast makes me feel the vibe on stage. While on stage, you can see what parts need more emphasis," he said. "My energy also gives a certain feel of confidence (to students) and ignites them."
Will "A Christmas Carol Ballet" become a Statesboro tradition? Safonovs hopes so.
"I certainly would love to see that happen," he said. "It is different and will attract more people, and has similarities and differences that may appeal to a broader audience."
"A Christmas Carol Ballet" will be shown Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets for Friends of the Arts members are $18 for adults, $10 for youth and $20 for box seats. For non-members, tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for youth and $22 for box seats.
For more information, call the Averitt Center for the Arts at (912) 212-2787.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.