Thursday is opening night for the UNC School of the Arts production of The Nutcracker ballet. The tradition that began in 1966 has gone through many changes over the decades. This year’s performances will shift to Greensboro for the first time.

From the school’s first makeshift performance nearly 60 years ago using Halloween costumes and used furniture, it’s grown to a production with nearly 200 handmade costumes, and $7,000 in pointe shoes alone.

With renovation efforts underway at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem, the ballet’s seasonal home, the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro was chosen to host this year’s shows. Concerns that the venue change might dampen attendance were soon put to rest as ticket sales —14,000 to date for the five performances — quickly outpaced those of previous years

UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole, who will lead the orchestra, says newcomers to the show from near and far will be blown away.

"Coming to see UNC School of the Arts and our students perform this piece, the quality and the talent of this production is as good or better than so many professional productions that I’ve seen around the country," says Cole. "It’s really remarkable. And so, you come and you have this experience but you also see the stars of tomorrow. You know, you see them right now."

The school’s ballet program has helped launch the careers of principal dancers, choreographers, and artistic directors in leading programs across the country including American Ballet Theater, Joffrey Ballet and the Martha Graham Ensemble.

Each year UNCSA’s The Nutcracker typically generates some $200,000 in scholarship funds that reach more than 1,000 students.

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