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Gwinnett Dance Project brings creativity and community to a Christmas classic

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

By Katie Watkins

Gwinnett Dance Project is a community for local professional dance artists to create and perform in a nontraditional company setting. Since its inception in 2019, it has been offering opportunities and inspiring connections within Gwinnett County. This December, Gwinnett Dance Project presented “The Sparrow & The Pine with Contemporary Nutcracker Selections” at the Dacula High School Auditorium. Largely choreographed by Riley Cooper Bryson, GDP’s President and Artistic Director, the show also featured choreography by company dancers Sabina Balic and Hayley Russell who are also fellow leaders of the company. The company had popcorn and drinks available for purchase, as well as headshots of the company members that could be signed by friends and family in the audience. These personal touches showcased the tight-knit community that can be found within Gwinnett Dance Project.


The performance began with their original contemporary ballet work “The Sparrow & The Pine.” Following an adventurous young sparrow, the ballet’s theme centers on compassion. The work opens with a family of four sparrows, performing angular movements with flowing bird-like arms. The dancers' movements throughout the stage gave the appearance that they were flocking and weaving like real birds. The expressiveness of each gesture accentuated the light, folk-inspired music which played throughout the theater. As three of the sparrows exited the stage one by one, a single sparrow was left on her own to explore. In the following solo, dancer Jewel Cha captures the earnestness of this sparrow, with her arms open and ready to receive what the world will give her. Yet, the lone sparrow is injured by a group of sparrow hawks, whose haunting strides left the audience afraid for the fate of the sparrow. Injured and alone, the sparrow turns to the trees searching for shelter, but each uncaring tree turns her away. Eventually, the Pine Tree gives the sparrow shelter, and the two perform an airy and balletic duet.


In the second section of the program, Gwinnett Dance Project presented their clever reimagining of classic selections from The Nutcracker. In this contemporary rendition of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, stars, suns, moons, and comets dance across the sky instead of snowflakes and sweets. Beginning with the suns, this number retained the sassiness of the original Spanish chocolate dance, as the deep red lighting accentuated the vibrant and elegant movement. Next, the moons were GDP’s interpretation of Arabian coffee. Similar to the original ballet choreography, the contemporary movement emphasized flexibility and style. The comets, which replaced candy canes, centered on high-energy jumps and turns. Finally, the stars led by the North Star represented the traditional snow scene. Overall, this final corps number is where Riley Cooper Bryson’s choreographic creativity was best showcased. In this piece, Cooper Bryson translated ballet movement to its contemporary equivalent, creating a parallel relationship between the two versions. This final number retained the energy of the original snow while providing a creative interpretation of the beloved classical ballet scene.



Gwinnett Dance Project’s holiday performance showcased the value that the company provides Gwinnett and its surrounding communities. It is a valuable transitional opportunity for young professional dancers who have a clear passion and genuine love of dance. The small company setting with Riley Cooper Bryson at the helm also allows for an intimate and collaborative artistic community. Beyond Cooper Bryson’s personal efforts, it is clear that each performer contributed something special to the overall work. This practice of collaboration can provide extremely valuable experience for young artists. Overall, Gwinnett Dance Project’s creative take on the traditional holiday show further exemplifies their eagerness to develop their niche in the local dance community. Their show, “The Sparrow & The Pine with Contemporary Nutcracker Selections” brought creativity and variety to the classic Christmas performance.



Katie marries her passions within her career, creating art through movement, poetry and photography. She holds B.A. Dance and B.A. English degrees from Brenau University, as well as a minor in Mass Communications. In recent years, Katie has discovered her passion for arts administration and furthered her compositional and performance training. She is currently working with Core Dance as the Social Media Coordinator.


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