Ballet joins orchestra in holiday classic

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For 55 years, Eleanor Viecelli-Tornblom has shared her love of dance with performers and audiences.

After extensive training in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, she opened Eleanor's Dance Studio in Irwin in 1957 and taught a variety of classes, including jazz, tap and ballet.

She later concentrated on ballet and moved her studio to Greensburg. In 1993, her nonprofit Laurel Ballet joined the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra to stage its first collaboration of the holiday classic, "The Nutcracker." The collaboration has proved to be so popular, the two organizations have entertained audiences in the region with the classic every year since.

The ballet company and symphony are gearing up for three performances this season: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 8 and 2 p.m. Dec. 9 at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

"My students have gone on to have careers in places as far-flung as England and Russia," Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom said. "Brooke Moore is a soloist with the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Courtney Carbone is with the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg."

Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom, 75, of Greensburg, started dancing at age 11 with ballet master Karl Heinrich in Pittsburgh. She also studied with Mary and Nicholas Petrov, founders of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. In Philadelphia, she studied with John White, director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet.

Her two daughters, Judy Rae Tubbs and Joy Uschak, both of Greensburg, teach at the school.

Ms. Tubbs also serves as resident choreographer for the ballet company. She has set original choreography to six classic ballets -- including "The Nutcracker" -- performed annually with the symphony. She also has choreographed more than two dozen original ballets and many contemporary works.

Ms. Uschak began her training with her mother and went on to study ballet with a mix of master teachers. In the course of her career, she found that she not only had a gift for instruction but also for arts management and eventually used those talents to handle Laurel Ballet's finances.

Another integral member of the Laurel Ballet team is Margaret Gilfillan of Greensburg, a theatrical costumer since 1993.

For this year's "The Nutcracker," the company will bring about 100 dancers onto the stage, including Alan Obuzor, who trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and is founder and director of Pittsburgh's Texture Contemporary Ballet Company. Mr. Obuzor will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Cavalier. Other male leads include Igor Konyukhov, a soloist from New York, and returning soloist, Juraj Adamek, a former Duquesne University Tamburitzan.

Three ballerinas -- Haley Kromer, Marly Grant and Emily Echard, all of Greensburg -- will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

"Our production is very rich because of the energy and talent of the 100 dancers and 53 musicians in the orchestra pit which collaborate to make everything come alive," Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom said.

"Both the WSO and the Laurel Ballet strive to raise the bar for artistic performances in the Westmoreland region," said Nichole Waugaman-Slavin, teacher at the ballet and president of its board of directors. "We are pleased to showcase so many talented local musicians and dancers."

Symphony managing director Morrie Brand said that a "live orchestra is an important component of 'The Nutcracker, and we are happy to be able to offer this to our audiences."

"Laurel Ballet puts a lot of hard work into the production in terms of choreography and their concerns for the artistic integrity of their performances, their costumes and sets," he said.

Sean Cassidy of Greensburg, a lawyer and board member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, said he attends Laurel Ballet's "Nutcracker" and other ballets every year.

"The dancers are well trained, the choreography is excellent and the scenery is nothing short of wonderful," he said.

The production will extend the holiday cheer with a sleigh that glides over the stage, a magical Christmas tree and snow, lots of snow.

"Our mice scene alone is absolutely fabulous with what must be 40 people on stage," Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom said. "It's what I call 'controlled chaos.' "

Tickets are $10 to $33. For tickets: 724-836-8000.

For information: or

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:


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