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Fantasies come to life in ‘Night Before’ ballet

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Amberly Hess rehearses for SLDC's "The Night Before Christmas."

Amberly Hess rehearses for SLDC’s “The Night Before Christmas.”

Courtney Sargent, Deseret News

Four years ago the Salt Lake Dance Center premiered "The Night Before Christmas," its full-length original Christmas ballet.

The story, which combines a bundle of childhood Christmas fantasies, was conceived by SLDC artistic director Jillana Hess Webb's father, Neil Hess.

"He wrote the script and story and actually performed portions of it with his theater company in Texas," said Webb. "And we decided to produce the full production here."

"The Night Before Christmas" premiered at a little middle school in the south end of the valley but has since grown into the Jeanne Wagner Theatre of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

"We had the idea of making the production an annual event when we started it," Webb said. "But it even took us by surprise at how popular it got in such a short time."

There are 65 children, ages 5 to 16, in the production which runs just a little less than two hours.

The main character, Alexandra, falls into a dream that includes Santa Claus, Mother Goose, a Christmas fairy, elves and some grinches who kidnap Santa.

"There is a little of everything in the production," she said. "When we decided to do it, we wanted to do something different than 'The Nutcracker.'

"Everyone knows 'The Nutcracker,' and many of us have been in it and love the story and the production," she said. "But we wanted to give people something different."

The two-act "The Night Before Christmas" does, however, have a "Nutcracker" nod within the seven scenes, she said. "Like I said, our production includes almost every childhood Christmas fantasy."

Webb, along with her sister, Alexia Hess-Sheehan of the New York City Ballet, and daughter Heather Webb of the Colorado Ballet School, all choreographed the production.

"The classical ballet is there, along with some contemporary dance from Alexia,' said Jillanna Hess Webb. "And we have various actors in the production who come from the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts."

Each year, Webb said, the Salt Lake Dance Center, featuring its resident company Ballet Jeunesse, looks forward to the production.

"It's fun for families and the community," she said. "But it's also fun for the dancers. Each year, as the dancers get older, they move onto the more difficult roles that were danced by the older kids the year before. So, there is a lot of anticipation on the dancers' part that is a little different than other productions."

If you go ...

What: The Night Before Christmas, the Ballet Center/Ballet Jeunesse

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South

When: Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m.

How much: $10

Phone: 355-2787, 888-8499

Web: www.arttix.org

E-mail: scott@desnews.com