It's been 50 years since Don Cantwell's Charleston Civic Ballet mounted his first "Nutcracker" ballet at Memminger Auditorium, featuring his choreography. The Civic Ballet became the Charleston Ballet Theatre, which Cantwell and his wife, Patricia, ran for decades. In 1987, Jill Eathorne-Bahr joined the organization.
Now the trio will offer a celebratory production, choreographed by Eathorne-Bahr, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Sottile Theatre, 44 George St.
The ballet, which pays tribute to Don Cantwell's artistic leadership, will feature New York City Ballet dancers Indiana Woodward and Harrison Ball, as well as the up-and-comer Satya Tranfield, who will dance the role of Maria.
Tranfield now studies at the school run by National Ballet of Canada. She was among the top winners of the 2015 Youth America Grand Prix. She spent years in the Lowcountry dancing under the tutelage of Eathorne-Bahr and Patricia Cantwell.
Ball, too, has Lowcountry ties, and recently returned to ballet after a year-long hiatus.
"Don Cantwell was my first ballet instructor," he said. "I believe I was on the brink of 5 when I first started with Charleston Ballet. Patty was a mother of sorts for me and Don a quiet mentor. ... It was Jill Bahr’s choreography (that) gave me my first opportunity to work with a professional ballet company. She was strict and powerful and yet always gentle with me. The three of these people, combined, paved the way for me to becoming the performer and artist I am today. It is thrilling to be returning to Charleston to dance on the stage where I spent so much time on as a child."
In 2012 and 2013, the operation suffered from financial and administrative problems that caused a shutdown, but Eathorne-Bahr and the Cantwells quickly reorganized their ballet school as the Charleston Ballet Center for Dance Education and forged ahead. In recent years, they have mentored young dancers and presented "The Nutcracker" and other productions.
"Don Cantwell and his wife, Patricia, made countless sacrifices as they cared for and nurtured many dancers through their ballet infancy and creative young adulthood," wrote Eathorne-Bahr in an email. "They are the reason I made the move to Charleston. ... The Cantwells provided Charleston children with the necessary tools to survive in the profession. Through his quiet Buddha-like presence, Don was always there, through physical illnesses and the emotional stresses of growing up."
Tickets for the 50th anniversary "Nutcracker" are $49-$68. Call 843-469-2080 or go to www.nutcrackercharleston.com.