LANCASTER — The excitement was palpable when the red curtains parted to reveal more than a dozen dancers onstage.
At that moment Thursday morning, the breaths of hundreds of schoolchildren exhaled at once — "Ohhhh!" — and so loudly that they could be heard over the iconic music of The Nutcracker.
Mr. Tchaikovsky, meet Lancaster, population 3,790.
To host the State Ballet of Russia was a significant milestone for the Lancaster Grand Theatre, a former movie house that was closed for nearly 50 years until it was restored, reopening in 2013 for live performances and movies.
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"It means a great deal to us because this ballet only goes to major cities," said Debra Hoskins, executive director of the Grand. "And for it to come to Lancaster, it not only drives the economy, but it also takes it up a step culturally when you have a ballet like The Nutcracker that all the kids read about."
The 48-dancer ballet company gave two hourlong performances for about 1,000 students and adults, who came from Boyle, Casey, Franklin and Lincoln counties. A school group from McCreary County had to cancel its trip because of slick roads, so Hoskins invited nearby Lancaster Elementary to bring its students.
An additional 400 people were scheduled to attend a Thursday night performance.
Hoskins, a Garrard County native, said she never had the opportunity to see a world-class ballet when she was in school.
So for these students "to be able to come across the street and see a main ballet company from Russia — that will stick with them the rest of their lives," she said.
The ballet came to the Grand because Hoskins has known Igor Levin, managing director of Hollywood Entertainment Group, for nearly 20 years. Levin founded that company after he immigrated to the United States from Russia, and he now brings talent from Russia to America.
"I know Debbie Hoskins very well," Levin said. "Everything that I bring to the United States, I bring to Debbie's facility, wherever she is working, because I know she is a great presenter. She probably has a small stage and small town, but she has such a warm heart."
Hoskins has worked previously at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville and the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts.
Levin said the dancers worked "all day" Wednesday to adapt their show for the Grand's stage, which is smaller than many venues.
But principal ballerina Anastasia Emelianova, 27, said the performances in Lancaster would be no different than what she would do for children in Russia.
"I feel like I am onstage in Russia — small stage, small town," she said through Levin, who interpreted.
Students and adults who saw the ballet were impressed.
"I believe my favorite part was meeting the dancers before the show. They were very kind," said Kenzie Perkins, 18, a home-schooled student from Hustonville. "It was very, very nice."
Collins Lane Elementary School teacher Cassie House said her students from Franklin County "were mesmerized from the very first opening scene. Eyes did not come off the stage."
"It was cool, all the dances they did," said Cate Looney, 6, a Collins Lane student. "I liked their costumes."