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photo: Kim Kenney
The Waltz of the Flowers is one of the highlights of the ballet’s second act. photo: Eric Yap

The Nutcracker ballet is in Nancy Tolbert Yilmaz’s DNA. It’s also on her phone. Her ring tone year round is a snippet from the famous Tchaikovsky score. “It’s amazing how many people recognize the music,” she says. As artistic director of Roswell Dance Theatre, Tolbert Yilmaz started rehearsals for the holiday classic in August with 350 dancers and brought in four male guest artists, including Jonah Hooper, formerly with Atlanta Ballet.

Tolbert Yilmaz, a Roswell native, founded her ballet school 44 years ago and launched The Nutcracker production nine years later. Over the years, as her students grew up, they enrolled their own children in the school and auditioned them for the holiday classic. “I think the most rewarding thing is seeing the second and third generation of children perform,” Tolbert Yilmaz says. “We’re like family.” This year, dozens of children, some of them as young as 5, will dance in the production.

Five years ago, the production moved from the Roswell Cultural Arts Center to the Byers Theatre in Sandy Springs, and the company had to buy new sets to fit the much larger stage. “We took a huge leap of faith,” Tolbert Yilmaz says. “But the mayor of Sandy Springs has been a big supporter, and we’ve been very successful there.”

Every year, she and the school faculty make subtle changes to keep the ballet fresh. And every year, at every performance, Tolbert Yilmaz, now 65, dances the role of Marie Von Stahlbaum, the mother in the party scene. “I can’t not do it,” she says. “It’s like breathing!” Evening and matinee performances are Nov. 24-26 and Dec. 1-3. Tickets start at $27.

BY Gillian Anne Renault

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