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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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FUN FACTS:

  • 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:

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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