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A Lively Nutcracker


Elizabeth Si as Clara

Fairy-light snowflakes adorn the lampposts in downtown Swarthmore, and the display tables at the Co-op are laden with treats in red and white packages. But it doesn’t really feel like the holiday season until we see the crowds gathering outside Swarthmore Ballet Theatre, eager to partake in the magic of the classic tale of childhood and adventure.

Swarthmore Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker is choreographed anew every year by Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn, in order to mine the talents of each dancer in the ensemble. This year’s production showcases an especially diverse and powerful group of dancers. The youngest is 6 and the oldest is 84. Altogether 63 dancers share the stage in the intimate space.

The party scene introduces the Stahlbaum family, including the elegant Clara (Elizabeth Si) and her mischievous little sister (Joya Denninger) who had the audience giggling as they alternately played and argued, like real sisters. As the families arrived to celebrate the holiday with the Stahlbaums, the stage filled with dancers young and old, each of whom was fully committed to his or her role. A quick gaze across the stage might highlight an interaction between mother and children, or a confiding smile between the Admiral and an elegant lady. William Hodges knows how to command the stage as Drosselmeyer and he had the audience laughing as he tricked Clara into thinking she wasn’t getting a present.

Adelaide and Enrico Faccio took the stage with amazing energy as the Gypsy dancers. Adelaide is a long-time member of the SBT corps de ballet and it was lovely to see her in a pas de deux. Enrico is a new face and brought wonderful athleticism to his work.

Clara & mice

jumping mouse

William Hodges as Drosselmeyer with Clara and the mice

When the party was over and Clara snuck downstairs in the night to visit with her nutcracker doll, she was assailed by a horde of truly tiny mice. These little dancers are the youngest allowed to perform in a company production and a perfect example of the discipline and joy cultivated by Ardis and Flynn. Each mouse attacked her role with gusto and precision, much to the delight of the audience. And we were all on the edge of our seats as the mice and soldiers joined the battle between the Nutcracker and the Royal Rat (Trinity Clow-McLaughlin).

When Theo Runiewicz emerged as the nutcracker doll come to life I think we all sighed a little at his charming smile. Runiewicz’s commitment to his technique and training since his SBT debut in 2017 is evident. The partnering between the Nutcracker and his Clara (Elizabeth Si) looked effortless, though their lifts and perfectly synchronized steps were extremely difficult. Si has a sylphlike appearance that belies her incredible strength, which combined with her exquisite technique make her a formidable dancer.

Act one wrapped up with Geraldine Leech’s beautiful performance as the Snow Queen with her Snow dancers. The ethereal choreography and costumes truly gave the sensation that it was snowing indoors.


Geraldine Leech as the Snow Queen

Act Two began with the angel (Eleanor Runiewicz) in a gorgeous solo with complicated footwork choreographed by the dancer herself.

The whole second act flew by with one incredible dance after another. Just a few of the standouts were:


Claire Ross in the Russian


the Spanish dance featuring Ava Manaker, who seemed to be light as air, the Russian dance with Claire Ross, whose musicality was a standout in last spring’s a la Modern production as well, and of course the death-defying Arabian with SBT favorite Donn Guthrie and the wildly talented Naomi Si, whose gorgeous dancing and powerful stage presence had the audience gasping and cheering as her partner held her aloft again and again.



Naomi Si & Donn Guthrie in the Arabian


The Waltz of the Flowers is a beautiful and lengthy piece of music. Choreographer Amber Flynn puts a corps of the most experienced dancers in this piece each year as the Flowers and the Dew Drop Fairy. This year, Letitia Prosser was absolutely arresting as the Dew Drop Fairy. She rose from a bank of Flowers like Pallas Athena in a shimmering silver costume and held the audience in her spell as she lifted her arms aloft for a full measure of music before bursting into a sea of movement. From this moment until she finished the dance, nearly seven minutes later, Prosser spun, leapt and charmed the audience, as groups of her gorgeous attendant flowers took turns dancing and retiring offstage. The athletic prowess of this young dancer was evident as each jump and turn seemed only to add to her exultation, never depleting her ceaseless energy.

waltz of the flowers

Letitia Prosser as the Dew Drop Fairy with Naomi Si, Ava Manaker, Julia Friel & Geraldine Leech

The pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy (Rose Hodges) and her cavalier (Donn Guthrie) was absolutely mesmerizing. Fans have watched Hodges grow up on the SBT

Sugar Plum & Cavalier

Rose Hodges & Donn Guthrie

stage. Her serene smile belies the difficulty of the steps, and Guthrie partners her masterfully through endless arabesques and athletic lifts.

Too soon, Clara was drawn back home again to wonder if her time with the nutcracker was real or only a dream.

But for the lucky audience, the magic of the production was very real and very memorable – a welcome return to the wonder of childhood holidays in the midst of a busy season.   


soldiers & mice

The mice and soldiers battle in Clara’s living room (spectacular lighting design by Billy Hodges)

The best way to remember your tickets for next year is to sign your children or yourself up for classes next year! Professional level ballet classes are available for the whole family right here in Swarthmore. Read more about taking classes at SBT here.


More than 100 volunteers assist in the production of the ballet. The Lori Ardis Ballet Company is a non-profit and can accept donations (recent fundraisers have outfitted the theater with beautiful eco-friendly lighting). Reach out to SBT to learn how to be part of the magic by donating time or funds! 



  • It’s a family affair! Many families had more than one member in this year’s production, including: a mother-daughter duo, three father daughter duos, and several sets of twins!

  • What a debut! Enrico Faccio (who danced the Gypsy with his sister Adelaide) has never performed at SBT before. He brings great energy and a charming smile to the production.

  • Did you know? If you’ve seen George Ballanchine’s Nutcracker ballet you may remember a main character called Marie going to the Land of Sweets. The Ardis and Flynn production has Clara and her prince visiting the Land of Enchantment where life-sized dolls from different countries dance! Click here to read an interview with Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn about their many productions of The Nutcracker!

  • Picture Perfect! All the photographs in this blog were taken by Kristen Herzel and provided courtesy of Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. Kristen’s son, Nathaniel Mitchell, is in the corps de ballet in this year’s production.

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An interview with my broker…

We hope you can join us!

To celebrate D. Patrick Welsh Real Estate’s 60th year in business, we are offering free appetizers, desserts and drinks June 7th from 5-7pm at our office – 16 Park Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081! Please join us to share your happy memories of the community!

I decided to sit down with our broker, Dave Welsh, and ask him what it was like to grow up in real estate and how he feels about the company’s many years in Swarthmore! 

Tell us about how D. Patrick Welsh Real Estate got started. Why did your dad want his own firm?

Dad graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and began working in the conveyancing department for Albert M. Greenfield Real Estate in Philadelphia. When he decided he would like to sell real estate, he came back to Delaware County, where he grew up. His father-in-law was James Lukens, a local builder and developer, so he began working for him. Then he decided strike out on his own.

Why did he choose Swarthmore?

Some of our family members grew up here and my dad was very fond of Swarthmore. Because of its unique nature as a small college town, Dad felt it was the ideal place to sell homes. He never looked back and neither have I.

What was it like to grow up in a real estate household?

I was one of five kids. Dad was busy 24/7. He loved his work, but he didn’t think we should get into the business just because he was in real estate. He would tell us, “Seek your own path.”

But you didn’t listen! Did you always know you wanted to run the family business?

After college I had a myriad of sales and construction jobs, all of which seemed to lead me straight back to real estate. In 1986 my dad finally summoned me home to join him at D. Patrick Welsh Real Estate. I think he saw that the market was improving. And he could see that clearly I was not to be deterred. But he wanted to make sure I paid my dues. When I started out, if I didn’t have work for a client, he would make me drive around Delaware county for hours each day so that I would know every single street. He really felt we should know and love our community.

What was it like to take over the business?

It was very easy for me to walk right into the business because my dad had such a great reputation. He used to tell me about his very first sale. He bought an ad in The Swarthmorean, of course, and held an open house. A man came from Philadelphia and bought the house by noon. My dad liked to say that he then took the rest of the day off – because he had no other listings or clients yet! But, of course, it wasn’t always that easy. He didn’t mind hard work though, he was literally selling the American dream.

Sixty years is a long time! What has changed about the business in that time?

Everything. We used to have a real estate book that came out each week with the new listings. Then we would all drive around to see them. By midweek you were so anxious for the next edition that if you saw an agent from another firm you might follow them to see if they were headed to a house that was newly for sale! Property listings going online was a great change for us and for our customers. And there have been huge strides ethically in the business too – the Fair Housing Act, the advent of buyer agency, and so many more changes that make the market better for customers. Ultimately this is a people business – no matter how things may change digitally we’re still meeting people and helping them achieve their dreams.

What is D. Patrick Welsh looking forward to in the coming years?

With the rate of change that we’ve seen in the last five to ten years in this industry, no one could possibly predict the technological changes! We’ll enjoy learning new things, taking advantage of advancements and adapting. But D. Patrick Welsh Real Estate will stay independent and focused on our clients – those values are our constant.

Tell us about your celebration!

On Friday, June 7th we’ll be having wine & cheese and hors d’oeuvres and sharing memories with our clients here at 16 Park Avenue in Swarthmore from 5-7pm. Come visit and celebrate with us! We couldn’t have done this without you and we’re very grateful!



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Celebrating 30 Years of Ballet in Swarthmore

The Arabian

Donn Guthrie & Elizabeth Si perform The Arabian dance from The Nutcracker (photo courtesy of Arbour Guthrie)

In the year 1989, Tim Berner-Lee made a proposal for an information system that would become the World Wide Web. The wreck of the Bismarck was found. Driving Miss Daisy  was declared Best Picture. The Berlin Wall came down.                                                                                                                                                                     

And, in a picturesque Arts & Crafts style edifice that was once the home to the Swarthmore Women’s Club, Swarthmore Ballet Theatre was born. IMG_5389 (1)

Artistic director, Lori Ardis, had been dancing and teaching professionally for many years already. But something magical happened when she brought her love for the craft to Swarthmore. Since 1989, SBT has nourished thousands of students with self-discipline and joyful learning, and treated audiences to wonderful performances through the non-profit that shares SBT’s home, The Lori Ardis Ballet Company. 

In celebration of SBT’s 30th anniversary, Mrs. Ardis and her daughter, Amber Flynn, have choreographed a sumptuous production featuring the absolute fan-favorite dances from three decades of performances. This production soars from the sweet strains of The Nutcracker to the drama of Giselle, and everything in between – including The Dream Weavers conceived by Ardis & Flynn, and two ballets composed by SBT fixture, Ray Lindsey.

The anniversary collection program allows SBT to highlight many more dancers than in a single ballet production. Behind the scenes over one hundred volunteers are responsible for dozens of sound cues, hundreds of beautiful costumes and thousands of hours of classes and rehearsals to culminate in a performance that will take your breath away!

The Firebird

Eleanor Runiewicz & Donn Guthrie – The Firebird (photo courtesy of Arbour Guthrie)

The production opens with a pas de deus from The Firebird. Eleanor Runiewicz is magnificently birdlike in her manner. She and Donn Guthrie as the Prince perform thrilling lifts and dance with a crisp formality appropriate for a man accepting a magical feather from a fantastical fowl. Other wonderfully dramatic dances include the death-defyingly difficult Arabian pas de deux from The Nutcracker (Elizabeth Si and Donn Guthrie), a swift and spine-tingling pas de deux between The Black Swan and the Prince from Swan Lake (Mia Davis and Donn Guthrie) and a dance from Giselle that has veteran SBT ballerina, Grace Hodges, descending believably into madness in a solo that puts the final episodes of Game of Thrones to shame.

The production is bursting with amazing solos including two lovely performances by Ellen McCullough as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Michaela Venuto’s lively tarantella from La Boutique Fantasque, Geraldine Leach’ssweetRaymonda, Naomi Nelms’s delightful jester from Cinderella,and Leticia Prosser’s hauntingly beautiful Odette from Swan Lake.

The audience is understandably excited by the sheer volume of incredible pieces. The

Alex Lily bw for swarthmorean

Lillian Hodges & Alex Voelker – Swan Lake (photo courtesy of Kristen Herzel)

energy in the intimate space is at its peak during joyful dances like Kitri and Basilio and their tornado of pirouettes in Don Quixote (Rose Hodges and Theo Runiewicz), The Hungarian from Swan Lake  (Lillian Hodges and Alexander Voelker) and the stageful of energetic dragonflies from Cinderella. 

Though we seldom think of the ballet as a place to go for laugh-out-loud humor, SBT’s classic light touch gets roars from the audience in dances like the hilarious musician with the ballerina playing all his mischievous instruments  from Cinderella (Mia Davis and Theo Runiewicz) and the rescue scene from Coppelia, in which Dr. Coppelius (William Hodges) tries to make a doll (Elizabeth Si) into a real girl and is tricked by Swanilda (Naomi Si) into believing he has accomplished this goal so that she can rouse Franz (Theo Runiewicz) and get him out of the house. The delusional doctor learns within two minutes of having a “real daughter” exactly how frustrating parenting can be. Swanilda’s antics and the doctor’s dismay absolutely bring the house down.
The Black Swan

Mia Davis & Donn Guthrie – Swan Lake (photo courtesy of Arbour Guthrie)

In all, Ardis and Flynn fly the audience through forty-three dances from fourteen ballets in a tight two hours that feels much, much shorter. The small stage is transformed again and again, and is occupied by dozens of dancers who are each fully committed to his or her role. It is a daring production that delivers a performance worthy of the decades of dance it represents.

Coveted SBT tickets can be hard to come by, but a few seats are available for the performance this Saturday, June 8th at 7:30pm. Be sure to arrive half an hour before curtain to secure your ticket, first come, first served.
And if you really want to remember to get tickets early next year – sign yourself or your children up for classesLearn more about taking dance classes at SBT here!


Haughty & Flighty

Above: Letitia Prosser  and Elizabeth Miller as silly step-sisters Haughty & Flighty – Cinderella Below: Naomi Si – La Boutique Fantasque (photos courtesy of Arbour Guthrie)

Snobby doll

Amber 2 Naomi

Naomi Nelms as the Jester – Cinderella (photo courtesy of Arbour Guthrie)

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A Fun and Festive Nutcracker

Swarthmore Ballet Theatre - Rose and Theo

Clara (Rose Hodges) & her Nutcracker Prince (Theo Runiewicz)

The streets of Swarthmore are swathed in garlands and decked in holiday banners once again. As the Home for the Holidays horse drawn carriage carries dozens of happy townsfolk past the village shops and Swarthmore Fire Company tree sale, a very lucky audience arrives at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre’s intimate space, clutching our coveted tickets to see this year’s production of The Nutcracker ballet.


Each year the mother-daughter choreography team of Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn creates a whole new ballet on the dancers. This year’s production draws on the gifts of an enthusiastic and fearless ensemble of experienced dancers, and further develops a wave of emerging new talent.


In SBT tradition, Mrs. Ardis herself steps onto the stage to share the story of the Nutcracker in a way that helps even the smallest members of the audience understand what they are about to see. Then the lights go down and we are immersed in the age-old story of holiday wonder.


The family tableaux is especially sweet this year. Clara (Rose Hodges) has a storybook innocence and interacts genuinely with her mother (Denise Disney), father (Bill Foster) and droll little brother (Nathaniel Mitchell). The party scene fills the small stage with an almost improbable number of delighted children and their bemused parents (all gorgeously costumed by Lori Ardis and Bonnie Weaver). Each member of the company is utterly devoted to telling the classic tale, no matter how large or small their role.


Drosselmeyer (William Hodges) presents Clara with two heart dolls, danced by Nathaniel Hodges and Audrey Foster. The two are clockwork perfect in their pas de deux, and when Drosselmeyer magically turns them human for a moment, Nathaniel’s warm smile for his partner is absolutely melting.


Of course, we all know what happens next. Reprising last year’s role as the Nutcracker prince, Theo Runiewicz partners Clara beautifully. His confidence and impressive height are the perfect complement to Hodges’s light-as-air quality of movement, and her gentle Clara.


Elizabeth Si’s Royal Rat majestically directs a hoard of mice to battle an army of the Nutcracker’s soldiers. When it’s all over, the elegant Ellen McCullough appears as the Snow Queen, with her bevy of snowflakes, to guide Clara and her prince to the Land of Enchantment.

Elizabeth mouse costume

Elizabeth Si dances the role of the Royal Rat

The second act treats the audience to a host of joyful new dances. The Spanish and Chinese are high energy pieces featuring some of SBT’s rising talent. The shepherdesses are lovely in their Alpine-themed costumes in a hilarious interlude that includes a battle with a rogue wolf. Other standouts are the elegant Tarantella, the lovely Russian solo, the lively Quintet, and of course Mother Ginger and her adorable children. Geraldine Leach dances her heart out as the Dew Drop Fairy, surrounded by a host of sumptuously costumed Flowers.


Ardis and Flynn have been refining and adapting a heart-stopping Arabian pas de deux since 2016 when it was first choreographed on Donn Guthrie and Anna Si. Since then, this devastating showstopper has been a proving ground for many of SBT’s most accomplished dancers. Guthrie reprises his role with Eleanor Runiewicz as his partner. Both dancers rise to the challenge, exhibiting trust, strength and unbelievable control as Runiewicz stretches, swanlike, and almost seems to float to the ceiling in just one of Guthrie’s capable hands.


The Sugar Plum fairy is an iconic role, perfect for an SBT veteran, like Mia Davis. Davis’s exquisite Sugar Plum is absolutely fairylike, fluttering her pointes in petite battlements and tapays and hanging in the air for an extra moment with every leap. Her pas de deux with her Cavalier (Donn Guthrie) appears to be effortless for the pair.


The tale comes to an end with Clara twirling in a soft spotlight, cradling her beloved nutcracker doll in her arms. SBT’s heartfelt production leaves the whole audience feeling just like the nutcracker, enchanted and embraced – and wishing the lights would never come up.


All tickets to this year’s Nutcracker are sold out. The best way to remember your tickets for next year is to sign your children or yourself up for classes next year! Professional level ballet classes are available for the whole family right here in Swarthmore. Read more about taking classes at SBT here.


More than 100 volunteers assist in the production of the ballet. The Lori Ardis Ballet Company is a non-profit and can accept donations (recent fundraisers have outfitted the theater with beautiful eco-friendly lighting). Reach out to SBT to learn how to be part of the magic by donating time or funds! 



  • It’s a family affair! Many families had more than one member in this year’s production, including: a mother-daughter duo, two father daughter duos, one family with six members all in the production, and three sets of twins!

  • Grab your tissues! In last year’s production, Clara’s Father was her father in real life. In this year’s production, Clara’s Mother is her mother in real life!

  • SBT dancers love to dance all year long! Spanish dancers Naomi Si and Alexander Voelker learned to play the castanets and work with a cape during the SBT Summer Intensive. Click here to learn more about the Summer Intensive!

  • What a debut! Bill Foster, who plays Clara’s Father has never performed onstage before. You would never guess it from his natural presence and debonair smile.

  • Did you know? If you’ve seen George Ballanchine’s Nutcracker ballet you may remember a main character called Marie going to the Land of Sweets. The Ardis and Flynn production has Clara and her prince visiting the Land of Enchantment where life-sized dolls from different countries dance! Click here to read an interview with Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn about their many productions of The Nutcracker!

  • Picture Perfect! All the photographs in this blog were taken by Kristen Herzel and provided courtesy of Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. Kristen’s son, Nathaniel Mitchell, played the mischievous Little Brother in this production!

Alex and Naomi

Spanish Dancers (Alexander Voelker & Naomi Si) learned cape work and castanets at the SBT Summer Intensive program. 








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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:


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Hauntingly Beautiful Giselle

Amber 1

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.


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


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!


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 to learn more!

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

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Music at SRS


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.


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.


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…




…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 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


halloween welsh

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

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