More talent takes center stage at Laurel Ballet

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Coming on a hugely successful production of "The Nutcracker" with the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra in December, Laurel Ballet members say they are energized and looking forward to the upcoming year.

"Last year, we had one of the biggest attendance records for 'The Nutcracker' ever with all three performances near capacity," said Eleanor Viecelli-Tornblom, 75, founder and artistic director of the Laurel Ballet. "This December, we'll celebrate our 20th anniversary of the staging of 'The Nutcracker' with the symphony at the Palace Theater in Greensburg."

On the more immediate horizon, the ballet will bring back to its dance studio Brooke Moore, former Laurel Ballet student and principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet. On March 26, Ms. Moore will speak to the audience about her recent performance as the lead in the Pennsylvania Ballet production of "Swan Lake" as well as her entire career, starting as a 7-year-old dancer studying at the Laurel Ballet.

Her 6 p.m. appearance at the studio, 813 Highland Ave. in Greensburg, is free, although donations to the ballet will be accepted.

"Laurel Ballet gave me my start, and it's always been dear to my heart," Ms. Moore said. "I love coming back to share my passion for ballet and show the younger student dancers that it's possible for a small-town dancer to have a successful career."

Ms. Moore, whose parents, Paul and Kathleen Moore, live in Indian Lake, Pa., studied at the Laurel Ballet for several years into her teens. At age 14, she also took classes at the Pittsburgh Youth Ballet. After getting a full scholarship, she moved to San Francisco at 15 where she studied at the San Francisco Ballet. At 16, she became an apprentice and a year later was promoted into the corps de ballet, where she spent nine years with one of the largest ballet companies in the nation.

"The San Francisco Ballet was an incredible experience that taught me so much," she said. "However, although I got to do some featured solo roles, I decided I wanted to move up the ranks and find more professional challenges. I also wanted to be closer to my family, so I joined the Pennsylvania Ballet at 26."

At the Philadelphia-based company, she was in the corps de ballet for one year, then became a soloist. The current season is her first as principal dancer.

"I've found the Pennsylvania Ballet a more nurturing experience than the San Francisco Ballet because it has far less dancers and doesn't tour as much," she said. "My recent performance in 'Swan Lake' as Odette/Odile is every ballerina's dream, and I wouldn't have had a chance to perform it with the San Francisco Ballet."

Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom remembers Ms. Moore well.

"Early on, Brooke was very serious about dance," she said. "She is also very intelligent, very beautiful, physically flexible and has a wonderful work ethic."

Laurel Ballet Studio now has nearly 150 students under the tutelage of Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom, her two daughters, Judy Rae Tubbs and Joy Uschak, and Nichole Waugaman-Slavin.

"Over the years, we've trained many talented ballerinas who've gone on to have successful careers in dance," Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom.

The Laurel Ballet will perform "Cinderella" at 2 and 7 p.m. June 8, with Mary Fetch and Haylie Kromer in the title role.

"Both ballerinas are very talented, and five male dancers from Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will be joining them," Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom said. "For the performances, Alan Obuzor, former PBT dancer and artistic director of the Texture Contemporary Ballet, will dance the role of the Prince."

To more adequately accommodate patrons, Laurel Ballet was recently able to pave its parking lot with a sizable loan from attorney Sean P. Cassady. The paving work brings to a close a long-standing problem with the city of Greensburg's building code.

"The city and the company went back and forth for several years on the issue," Mrs. Viecelli-Tornblom said. "The parking lot was muddy, and I wanted to lay down some gravel, but the city wouldn't accept that solution."

She said she had to mortgage her house to pay an initial contractor, who "took the money but never followed through on construction. As a result, I'll be 76 next month and now have a huge mortgage on my house."

The loan from Mr. Cassady, however, enabled her to have the lot paved by a second contractor, she said.

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