December 18, 2012 // Local

‘Nutcracker’ performance is special gift

Anticipation builds for these young ballerinas as they watch other cast members of the New American Youth Ballet perform at a dress rehearsal of the “Nutcracker” ballet.

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — The “Nutcracker” ballet is a timeless holiday tradition cherished by young and old, and this year a local dance group carried on the legacy with panache as they performed for an exceptional audience. Over 60 members of the New American Youth Ballet executed a heartfelt performance for a sold out crowd of over 2,000 children and adults who live with disabilities or in disadvantaged situations on Dec. 16 at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Wayne.

Adding to the already spectacular event was a visit from Santa Claus at the close of the ballet performance replete with a gift for every audience member. The gifts were purchased with funds from a generous donation made by Ciocca Cleaning and Restoration and Glenbrook Dodge.

New American Youth Ballet, a nonprofit organization established in 2004 by Beth McLeish, is an academic and ballet dance school in Fort Wayne. As dean of ballet, McLeish shares administration of the extraordinary school with her brother Mark Bly, who acts as dean of academics. Both are parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul Parish.

While preparing for this year’s annual “Nutcracker” performance the company felt a need to reach out to the community in a special way.

McLeish says, “We wanted the students to bring the arts to some who don’t get the chance to experience them … to use their art to give back.”

Twenty-five local social service agencies participated in the special event with clients and family members from Vincent Village, Euell Wilson Community Center, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Aging and In-home Services, the League of the Blind and many more.

Fred Tone, retired principal of Bishop Dwenger High School, and Steve Doepker, academic consultant and retired administrator, were instrumental in planning the event, coordinating the agencies and sponsors, and procuring the USF Performing Arts Center for the performance. McLeish says that the NAYB has performed on that stage for eight years, while it was known as the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

“When University of Saint Francis bought the building last year, it was a natural transition to go to USF to sponsor the project,” she says.

Partnering with USF has benefitted so many. Franciscan Sister M. Elise Kriss, president of USF, says, “Art and learning have long been paired at the University of Saint Francis. Through the School of Creative Arts, the university has educated diversely in the arts while partnering with local organizations to make the creative disciplines and experience available to everyone. With the new USF Performing Arts Center, we have an even greater opportunity to provide artistic expression and enjoyment to our community. Our support of the New American Youth Ballet performances of ‘The Nutcracker’ in December underscores our commitment to expanding the understanding and appreciation of ballet by showcasing this classic work by Tchaikovsky.”

The dancers’ special outreach began well before the Dec. 16 performance. During the month of November, the cast of the “Nutcracker” performed sneak previews of their performance to a variety of special children including those at Vincent Village, Martin Luther King Montessori School, Turnstone and Lutheran Hospital. The dancers were overjoyed to read the story of the nutcracker to the groups of children, as well as teach some simple ballet techniques. Due to the chronic nature of some of the illnesses the children at Lutheran Hospital exhibited, the cast performed there via closed circuit TV.

Olivia Kruse, a 16-year-old student at the ballet school was excited to be cast as the sugar plum fairy and participated in the sneak previews. She says, “This is the first year our school is doing the ‘Nutcracker’ on stage in public. So we’re very excited and happy that we get to do it.”

This active St. Vincent de Paul Parish parishioner felt the Christmas outreach was a perfect way for her to serve her community. She says, “I love seeing them (the children) smile when we come out in our costumes. It’s cool to share with them what we love to do.”

In addition to this special outreach performance the New American Youth Ballet student dancers held a performance on Dec. 15 that was open to the public and another the evening of Dec. 16 at a discounted rate for area Fire and Police Department families as well as military families and veterans.

For more information on the New American Youth Ballet visit


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