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Local Author Spreads the Love…

Local author, Jon Cohen, gave a wonderful talk about the process of writing his new novel, Harry’s Trees, at the Inn in Swarthmore’s bookstore on Saturday. He kept the standing-room-only crowd laughing as he demonstrated his bag of writerly magician’s tricks, used to lure in a reader and keep them helplessly hooked.

Cohen’s unique brand of heartfelt, funny fiction has featured Swarthmore-like towns before (check out The Man in the Window and Max Lakeman and the Beautiful Stranger for a taste!) Harry’s Trees, an Amazon Top Ten Editorial Pick in the Literature & Fiction category, is set in the Appalachians and features a fantastic cast of characters that includes a young widower and a feisty librarian.

Cohen’s brief reading from the novel had us all spellbound and clamoring for more. (Spoiler alert: The writerly tricks definitely worked on us even though he had revealed them in advance!) The line for signed hardbacks stretched out the door of the bookstore and into the lobby.

Want to see what all the fuss is about? Snag your copy of the book at your local bookstore or download an e-copy at any online vendor. Here’s the blurb:

When you climb a tree, the first thing you do is to hold on tight…

Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane works as an analyst for the US Forest Service. When his wife dies suddenly, he is unable to cope. Leaving his job and his old life behind, Harry makes his way to the remote woods of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, determined to lose himself. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She and her mother, Amanda, are struggling to pick up the pieces from their own tragedy—Amanda stoically holding it together while Oriana roams the forest searching for answers. And in Oriana’s magical, willful mind, she believes that Harry is the key to righting her world.

Now it’s time for Harry to let go…

After taking up residence in the woods behind Amanda’s house, Harry reluctantly agrees to help Oriana in a ludicrous scheme to escape his tragic past. In so doing, the unlikeliest of elements—a wolf, a stash of gold coins, a fairy tale called The Grum’s Ledger and a wise old librarian named Olive—come together to create a golden adventure that will fulfill Oriana’s wildest dreams and open Harry’s heart to a whole new life.

Harry’s Trees is an uplifting story about the redeeming power of friendship and love and the magic to be found in life’s most surprising adventures.

Learn more about the book, read reviews or find out where to grab your copy here:

https://www.joncohenbooks.com

 

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Hauntingly Beautiful Giselle

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Giselle (Maia Virgil) in the foreground with Albrecht (Donn Guthrie) and Myrtha (Grace Hodges)

It was a sunny Saturday in Swarthmore, but thunderstorms were in the forecast. As ominous clouds gathered overhead, a small crowd of formed outside Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. These were the lucky ticket-holders for the opening performance of Giselle.

The changing weather was appropriate for the subject matter.Giselle tells the story of a beautiful young peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman. The ballet begins with joyful villagers dancing in bright costumes.

But what follows involves death, ghosts and a midnight threat against the living.

The mother-daughter team of Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn crafted a beautiful variation on the original 1841 Coralli & Perrot choreography, creating a ballet that perfectly mines their company’s talents. The SBT Giselleproduction is light as air and then heavy as a Shakespearian tragedy.

The house lights went down and Mrs. Ardis herself came out to introduce us to the story. Then we were transported to a German village where jubilant villagers prepared for the dance.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that every single member of this company is one hundred percent committed to his or her role, no matter how large or small. A glance across the tiny stage any given moment might include two maids arguing, a gaggle of girls in a tizzy over the arrival of the noble family, or even a boy yearning to knock on the door of the young woman he admires. As wave after wave of pointed feet, smiling faces and exquisitely costumed dancers surged the stage, I was reminded that each member of the corps was an integral part of telling this story.

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Hilarion (Theo Runiewicz) dances with his sister (Eleanor Runiewicz) as a Village Girl (Rose Hodges) looks on

Theo Runiewicz is a relative newcomer to SBT, but his expressive eyes and impressive leaps make him a great addition to the company. (Fun fact: Rumor has it that Runiewicz has been banned from practicing jumps backstage because his head actually hits the ceiling.) His character Hilarion is in love with Giselle though his feelings are not reciprocated. Hilarion’s rivalry with Albrecht (Donn Guthrie), the nobleman who steals her heart, went from funny to dangerous. And Hilarion’s dance with his sister showed that this dancer is upping his partnering game. I can think of no better way to do so than under the tutelage of his partner (his real- life sister) the very talented Eleanor Runiewicz.

Maia Virgil is no stranger to dancing difficult roles, but Giselle is the ultimate challenge. Forbidden from strenuous activity by her weak heart, the peasant girl Giselle must dance as lightly as a cloud. As the story continues, both the acting and the dancing become even more difficult. Virgil rose to the challenge, leaping so lightly she seemed to float under the watchful eye of Giselle’s father (danced by William Hodges) who hilariously marked each of her movements to be sure she did not seem to be exerting herself.

Donn Guthrie danced the role of Albrecht with real heart. His desire to hide his noble birth and dance with the villagers was apparent, and his difficult partnering work with Virgil was so beautifully done it seemed almost effortless.

Ellen McCullough danced the role of the duchess with a sparkling elegance. Her glamourous smile had the whole village smiling back at her as they watched her place a necklace around Giselle’s neck to honor her for her lovely and unusual dancing.

But all smiles were gone in an instant when the truth came out that Albrecht was betrothed to another. After a first act full of funny moments, the audience watched in stunned silence as Giselle tore her hair down and danced herself down a palpable memory lane of her time with Albrecht, and then into madness, until her poor broken heart stopped beating.

Act Two began with the introduction of the Willis, the ghosts of wronged women who exact their revenge by finding men who are in the woods alone at night and forcing

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Mia Davis as a Willi

them to dance themselves to death.

The lighting for this production was designed by William Hodges and run by Doug McCullough. SBT’s new lighting is both environmentally friendly and infinitely adaptable – allowing for the stage to be utterly transformed without extraneous changes to David Flynn and April and Bill Reeser’s striking sets. Nowhere was this more evident than in the scenes with the Willis, where lighting set the mood and accentuated the haunting beauty of the corps de ballet’s costumes, designed by Bonnie Weaver.

3.A double line of SBT’s powerhouse ballerinas stretched diagonally across the stage in cobalt moonlight, forming an aisle down which Myrtha, queen of the Willis, danced, coaxing their newest sister out of the grave.

When Giselle appeared in her ethereal white veil the terrifyingly beautiful picture was complete.

The Willis danced with restrained passion and when Albrecht appeared to mourn his lost love he caught the eye of their queen.

I’ve been watching Grace Hodges dance since she did the Spanish dance in the Nutcracker back in 2013. Hodges is always a joy to watch and she played this fierce role to perfection. Albrecht’s pleas for mercy were lost on the cruel queen as she pushed him farther and farther toward exhaustion.

I won’t give away the ending here, but this is one dramatic story and SBT kept us all on the edge of our seats until the very last note of the score!

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Maia Virgil as Giselle and Donn Guthrie as Albrecht

 

Want to see what all the fuss is about? I’m told there are a few tickets remaining for next week’s Saturday performances at 11:00am and 7:30pm. Stop by half an hour before the performance to get yours!  

And of course, the best way to remember to snag tickets is to sign yourself or your children up for ballet classes! Visit SwarthmoreBalletTheatre.org to learn more!

All photographs courtesy of Kristen Herzel, Quinn Guthrie and Swarthmore Ballet Theatre

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Music at SRS

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Swarthmore-Rutledge Elementary students enter the auditorium to perform their Winter Orchestra Concert (conducted by Mr. Shaul)  for an enormous crowd.

The Wallingford-Swarthmore school district music program has always been beloved by both students and the community. From the orchestra to the band, formal musical study is an integral part of a WSSD education. (WSSD had even been placed on the list of “Best Communities for Music Education” for three years in a row by NAMM.) Beginning in third grade, all students are offered the opportunity to take free lessons on instruments (though musically gifted children who have studied their instruments outside of school sometimes begin even sooner).

But music finds its way into so many other school activities. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration culminated in an assembly that included a play performed by 3rd graders with songs both during and afterward. The play was followed by a spirited visit from the incredibly talented students of Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts that had the whole crowd singing and clapping along. Afterward, SRS principal, Dr. Tuck herself accepted the microphone and, declaring herself inspired by her charges, sang her heart out to her students in a medley dedicated Dr. King’s legacy.

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The fifth grade chorus performs beautiful songs of the season at the SRS Winter Concert, led by Miss Suarez and accompanied by Mr. Shaul on piano.

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How many students can claim that they have been serenaded by their principal? Dr. Angela Tuck sings a medley inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to a rapt audience of students and parents as performing arts students from CAPA look on.

 

 

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Winter in Swarthmore!

 

Swarthmore is glowing with fairy lights and the snowflake flags are waving merrily from the lamp posts! We all know what that means – the holidays are right around the corner!

Here are just a few of the ways we’re preparing for winter here in the village…

Volunteers built and erected the sets for The Nutcracker at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. Over one hundred people donate their time to make the magic at SBT. Read more about this year’s production here!

 

Swarthmore Town Center’s Home for the Holidays celebration on December 2nd included dancing with Jeannine Osayande and Dunya Performing Arts…

 

There was a Holiday Sing-a-Long at Hobbes with SwUKEstra…

 

After carriage rides, singing, dancing and so many other wonderful activities, the night ended with a holiday tree lighting at the library. Many stuck around for an informal tour of the garden on Park Avenue, with holiday lighting by David Augustine, and to browse at Harvey Oak Mercantile and the other town shops!

 

Special thanks to Linda Heffernan for donating Home for the Holidays photographs!

Snow fell on the Borough on December 9th, frosting the trees of Cornell Avenue, the shops on Park and the whole village…

 

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…and snow fell in this mini-Swarthmore, created by an SRS 3rd grader at Harvey Oak Mercantile! (HOM often offers a fun free project for children to work on so parents and caregivers can shop!)

We hope to see you in the village soon for holiday fun and throughout the winter season!

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A Bright & Beautiful Nutcracker

Clara tree

Clara (Maia Virgil) decorates the tree with her family (David Virgil, Denise Disney, Ruth Lefkowitz) as the maids look on (Amelia Dunning & Naomi Si).

Summer tarried in Swarthmore this year and we tarried with it, taking long lingering walks and eating picnic suppers on our porches. Then fall flashed past in a rush of colorful leaves and we all looked up to find that it was suddenly December.

 

But, for anyone with a sought-after Nutcracker ticket in hand, it’s not a bit difficult to leap into the holiday mood instantly at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre!

 

The packed audiences at both of Saturday’s performances waited with bated breath as the lights went down. Mrs. Ardis herself welcomed us, and told the Nutcracker story in such a way that even the littlest audience members could understand what they were about to see.

 

The party scene has always been the heart of the tale. Denise Disney danced Clara’s mother with a lightness of spirits matched only by her lightness on her feet. Clara herself is played by the very talented Maia Party Scene NateVirgil. Former SBT students often find that their training opens exciting doors for them. Virgil, who spent her summer dancing in Manhattan after being accepted for a summer intensive at the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, is no exception.

 

The consummate adolescent, Clara played soldiers with her little sister, danced by Ruth Lefkowitz, and then quickly thought the better of it, all under the watchful eye of their father, danced by David Virgil

 

The party guests arrived and Drosselmeyer (William Hodges) presided over it all, giving out gifts, and presenting Clara with the nutcracker as the audience giggled and gasped at each new development. When the gypsy dancers finally burst onto the scene the small stage was trulyGypsies Alex packed to the gills. But there was never any danger of confusion – each performer, large and small, was so alive with expression and focused so entirely on the action at hand that it felt as if the whole theatre were one of Drosselmeyer’s magical clockwork creations.

 

Clara bravely fought off a horde of enthusiastically mischievous mice and their imperious queen and then roused her prince. When the helmet came off and the prince’s face was revealed, the audience smiled with him.

 

Clara-Nutcracker 1The Nutcracker is Theo Runiewicz’s very first role at SBT. A perfect Nutcracker prince smiles and radiates a non-threatening heart-throbbiness appropriate to appeal to a young Clara, all while leaping,spinning and even lifting his partner. This is no small task even for an experienced dancer, but Runiewicz held his own and Virgil was a perfect partner to him, her experience and his enthusiasm combining to make their pas de deux truly fun to watch. I hope we’ll see more of Runiewicz at SBT soon.

 

After an action-packed first act, the peaceful strains of the Waltz of the Snowflakes can feel ponderous. But Eleanor Runiewicz and her snowflake attendants instantly took command of our attention and held it until the lights went down. Runiewicz’s Snow Queen was glamorous, and precise as a jewelry box ballerina. Her attendants were absolutely mesmerizing, we have much to look forward to as these young corps de ballet dancers come into their own.

 

The second act was a visual treat. Costumes are designed by Lori Ardis and Bonnie Weaver, and hand sewn by a dedicated group of volunteers. This year’s palette featured sumptuous jewel tones for the Waltz of the Flowers, Quartet, Tarantella and Spanish dance. These rich colors were reminiscent of old-fashioned Christmas tree decorations and they absolutely sparkled under designer Doug McCullough’s beautiful lighting. The simple yet dramatic use of wing-like gauze robes for the Chinese dance was breathtaking and unforgettable.

 

Grace Hodges has been lighting up the stage at SBT for years and her Sugar Plum fairy was a delight to watch. Her solo had a jaunty IMG_4595confidence that matched the puckish edge to the music and when she wrapped things up with a dizzying series of inside and outside piqué turns the audience applauded in awed delight. Her pas de deux with veteran cavalier, Donn Guthrie, was nothing short of athletic.

 

Guthrie wowed us again in his Arabian with partner, Mia Davis. Davis’s long lines and amazing flexibility were a great match for Guthrie’s strength and they had our hearts in our mouths again and again as he lifted her higher and higher, ending with Davis at the ceiling, stretched into an impossibly swanlike arch and balanced aloft by just one of Guthrie’s hands.

 

Each year the choreography team of Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn create the entire ballet from scratch to take full advantage of the unique gifts of the dancers cast in each role, reprising just a few audience favorites here and there. This year’s shepherdess dance was altogether new. Rose Hodges made the role of the lead shepherdess look effortless, her pointes never making a sound on the Marley. William Hodges partnered her handsomely.

 

Other standouts in the second act included Geraldine Leech’s spirited SpanishSpanish dance, the Chinese dance, the Candy Canes, the Quartet, and Nathaniel Hodges’s Tarantella, as well as Mother Ginger and her children, and the exquisite Waltz of the Flowers.

 

Ellen McCullough has been a hardworking standout in the corps de ballet at SBT for as long as I’ve been attending performances. Her sheer happiness as she danced the Dew Drop Fairy was a palpable thing and Ardis and Flynn perfectly Dew drop_showcased McCullough’s beautiful extension and her infectious smile in a dance that was light as air, and accentuated by a filmy costume that glimmered in the lights like a real dew drop with McCullough’s every leap and turn.

 

When it was time for Clara and her prince to return home I don’t think I was the only audience member who didn’t want the performance to end.

 

Tickets are sold out for this year’s performances, but the best way to remember your tickets for next year is to sign your kids (or yourself) up for classes! Visit www.swarthmoreballettheatre.com to learn more.

 

Did You Know?

  • Did you know that several families have more than one member onstage in this year’s Nutcracker? Among them are six members of the Hodges family and two Runiewicz siblings in lead roles (who fight each other as the Nutcracker Prince and the Rat Queen). David Virgil, who plays Clara’s father, is the ballerina’s dad in real life too! Even the choreographers, Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn, are a mother-daughter team! (Read more about Ardis & Flynn here!)

  • Did you know that Lori Ardis Ballet Company is a 501C-3 non-profit arts organization? Donations are always welcome. Volunteers, including photographer Kristen Herzel, are helping raise funds to purchase new environmentally-friendly lighting equipment for the theatre!

  • Did you know that over one hundred volunteers assist with each production? If you love to sew or break down sets, be sure to reach out so you can join in the fun!

All photographs are shared courtesy of Kristen Herzel and Swarthmore Ballet Theatre.

Clara lift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fall in Swarthmore

1. fall downtown

The leaves are changing…

2. bubbles

Children blow bubbles in the village amphitheater…

3. co-op pumpkins

There are pumpkins at the Co-op…

4. food truckathon

A beautiful, warm day for the Food Truck-a-thon….

5. pumpkinland

Check out Pumpkinland at nearby Linvilla Orchard!

6. spooky linvilla

pumpkins

halloween welsh

Back in Swarthmore, the shop windows are ready for Halloween!

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream at SBT

 

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From left: Geraldine Leech as Hermia, Will McCullough as Lysander, Kevin Gardiner as Demetrius, Anna Morreale as Helena and Anna Si as Titania

Late spring has sprung in Swarthmore, bringing with her the lush flowers and the shady tree canopy and the Farmers Market, and of course, the ballet.

 

Sweet young love is in the air at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre and the result is not what you might think – at least not at first! Shakespeare’s classic tale of love gone wrong and then very wrong and then right again is played out with humor in this dreamy production.

 

The performance space at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre is not large. Most productions have ingeniously minimal set pieces. But stepping inside the theatre for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the audience is instantly transported to the enchanted wood outside Athens. A venerable oak seemingly sprouts out of the stage floor. Boulders and vines blend the lines between the upper and lower stages.

 

At last Saturday morning’s production, a sold-out crowd of lucky audience members young and old watched the lights go down and then Mrs. Ardis herself came out to remind us of the story of the bard’s beloved tale.

 

Then the lights went down and out came the elegant Trinity Clow-McLaughlin to draw us into the story with a solo accompanying a narration of the fairy’s classic over hill over dale speech.

 

After that the show exploded forward with bevies of fireflies and fairies setting the mood of the magical forest and making the way for the fairy royalty.

 

Don Guthrie danced Oberon with great dignity, and Anna Si was appropriately indignant and haughty as Titania when Guthrie slyly tried to assume custody of her sprightly changeling boy, danced by Nate Mitchell. When it was clear that the fight was on between the fairy king and queen it was time for them to make way for the lovers.

 

Even if it’s been a while since you read Midsummer in high school, the four lovers made their roles clear with their first rate acting and the help of gorgeous costumes that helped the audience see who was meant to be together.

 

Though there were many laugh-out-loud moments in this ballet, few were funnier than the pas de deux between unrequited loves. Demetrius (Kevin Gardiner) expressed dismay when he suddenly found himself dancing with a hilariously enamored Helena (Anna Morreale). And later, Lysander (Will McCullough) abandoned poor Hermia (Martine Leech) for Helena, whom he was devastated to catch dancing with Demetrius. The lovers’ fight scene was incredible too.

 

Of course it’s not Midsummer without Puck. Nathanial Hodges was perfectly playful and spent as much time airborne as he did on the stage. His interactions with Oberon and with his butterfly companion (Elizabth Si) were light-hearted and delightfully expressive.

 

Led by William Hodges as Bottom, the rude mechanicals were fantastically funny. When Puck used his magic pollen to make Titania fall in love with Bottom the whole audience held our breath in anticipation.

 

Anna Si is such an achingly elegant dancer. It can be all too easy to forget her silly streak. The scene where Hodges literally chews the scenery as Si falls madly in love with him, donkey ears and all was desperately funny.

 

But what brought down the house was the arrival of the fairy attendants to dance with Titania. One after the next they each entered gracefully for their dance, only to do a comic double-take at the shocking sight of their mistress dancing with a donkey. By the time the final fairy danced in and then wandered to the edge of the wings in confusion the audience was in stitches.

 

Naturally Oberon urged Puck to make things right and one by one the lovers and Titania were all made to fall in love with their right partner.

 

At last Hippolyta (danced with strength and passion by Maia Virgil) arrived. She and the Duchess presided over a truly lavish wedding attended by a flock of flower girls whose infectious enthusiasm brought joy to the audience as well as the couples onstage.

 

Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn choreograph every single ballet on the dancers, meaning that every note of this two-hour production was crafted precisely to mine the talents of the dancers at hand. The result is that every dancer onstage is stretching his or her skills to the limit. And what they can accomplish is absolutely stunning.

 

If you are looking for a fun and inspiring way to spend your Saturday night, rumor has it that there are a few tickets left for the 7:30pm performance. Stop by the door at 7pm to check in!

 

Meanwhile, if you want to be sure not to forget to snag tickets next time, why not sign up for classes at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre? Learn more on their website at http://swarthmoreballet.com.

 

For info on what it’s like to study Ballet at SBT, check out the post here!

Flower girls

The flower girls spin and smile through their enthusiastically energetic dance…

 

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