BYH to people who bash teachers. You literally would not last one class period at my school. I get cussed at, chairs...

'The Nutcracker' performance dedicated to ballet devotee

1 of 6

Dance Arts Theatre's "The Nutcracker," now in its 27th season, has raised nearly $200,000 for Children Miracle Network Hospitals.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Friday, December 7, 2018

Over nearly three decades of “The Nutcracker,” it is hard to imagine that anyone saw the Dance Arts Theatre production more than Jeane Welch.

She watched the first performance in 1985 when her daughter, Marty, was a dancer. She was in the audience when her granddaughter, Holton, twirled across the stage in her final performance in 2012. But in the years in between, Welch was known to have attended the ballet every year, every single performance, even the dress rehearsals.

It is not unusual for mothers and grandmothers to seize every opportunity to see their children and grandchildren dance. But for Welch, it wasn't just about family. In many ways, ballet became an extension of her family.

“Everyone called her Mama Jeane,” said Sherryl Tipton, founder of the North Carolina Academy of Dance Arts and artistic director of Dance Arts Theatre, the studio's pre-professional dance program. “It was like a family.”

North Carolina Academy of Dance Arts mourned the loss of a member of its dance family in January, when Welch died at age 85.

“The Nutcracker,” which marks its 27th season this weekend with performances in ECU's Wright Auditorium, will dedicate the Sunday performance to Welch's memory. Family and friends have made contributions to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which receives net proceeds from “The Nutcracker,” in her honor.

It might seem like an unusual choice for a company to dedicate a performance to a woman who never set foot on the stage of “The Nutcracker.” But Tipton said Welch played a vital role behind the scenes.

“She did change the face (of dance in the area), in a lot of ways,” Tipton said. “She did change the complexion of what we've been able to do.”

Welch, a native of Williamston, never took a single dance lesson. While as a teenager, Jeane McLawhorn and then-boyfriend Jack Welch sometimes won local jitterbug competitions, Jeane would have loved to have studied ballet if she had been given the chance.

“She always dreamed of it,” Marty said. “Her family was so big; it wasn't cost-effective for them. She told me she used to just stand in front of the mirror and twirl around.”

When Jeane and Jack married and had a family, they supported their children's artistic pursuits. Marty was among the first students enrolled when Tipton opened her dance studio. Jeane sewed her daughter's costume for her first role in “The Nutcracker.”

But after Marty went away to college, Welch continued to find her seat in the audience for the production. She also began to travel to watch ballet performances elsewhere.

“I was the last one to leave the house,” Marty recalled. “I said, 'Mom you need to get a hobby.' I meant like book club or something. She started taking off to New York.”

Welch become a patron of American Ballet Theater, attending performances in New York almost as regularly as she had gone to see ballet in Greenville. She went to dress rehearsals and had a chance to meet dancers backstage.

“She took them in like her own children,” Marty said. “After their performances, she would offer to take them out to dinner. She just loved them and loved their art and loved to talk to them about it.”

Welch got to know famous people in the ballet world, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, who once stunned Marty by greeting her mother by her first name. She also struck up a friendship with dancer Benjamin Pierce, who was beginning his professional career with American Ballet Theater.

It was Welch who extended the invitation to Pierce, later a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, to come to Greenville as a guest artist in Dance Arts Theatre's “The Nutcracker.” Pierce's performance as Cavalier was a leap forward for the Greenville production, opening the door for artists like Veronica Lynn and Julie Kent to follow.

“At that time Julie Kent was the prima ballerina,” Tipton said. “(Jeane) made the connection to the top. It would be like bringing Michael Jordan in.”

The Welches invited the dancers to stay in their home, treating them like their children. Marty recalls that some of the dancers would return months after the winter performance, joining the family on trips to the beach.

The family also hosted the annual cast party following each season's final performance of “The Nutcracker.”

D.H. Conley High School senior Reagan Bullock, a student at the N.C. Academy of Dance Arts since age 3, remembers attending those parties as a child, having a chance to mingle with guest artists and always taking a group photo on the staircase of the Welch's home.

Reagan recalled being amazed to learn that Kent, now artistic director of The Washington Ballet, had posed for photos on that same staircase after “The Nutcracker” several years ago.

Hillary Weismiller, who was in the same dance class as Holton Welch, said that as a young dancer, she was unaware the Jeane Welch had so many connections in the ballet world.

“She was down to earth,” Weismiller said. “But had it not been for her, I don't know that we would have found those kind of people. She kind of opened the door for the start of all that.”

This year's production of “The Nutcracker” continues that tradition with guest artists Timour Bourtasenkov, former principal dancer and founding member of Carolina Ballet; Richard Krusch, who has worked with American Ballet Theatre and the Hungarian National Ballet, World Ballet Competition bronze medalist Rammaru Shindo; and Yevgeny Shlapko and Margaret Severin-Hansen of Carolina Ballet.

The ballet will include a cast of 120, some of them too young to remember how Welch was always in the audience for every performance.

“I don't know why she did it,” Tipton said of Welch's ongoing support. “She just did. She would come to dress rehearsals when she knew no one, just to be a part of it. I think it just touched her heart.

“She was bringing to this community opportunities that may not have been possible at the time without her relationships,” she said, “and she enjoyed knowing that people were going to have an opportunity to perhaps feel the way she felt sitting in the auditorium.”


Dance Arts Theatre will present “The Nutcracker” ballet at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at ECU’s Wright Auditorium. Net proceeds from this event will be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals to benefit the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center. Tickets are $35 for adults and $28 for children. Call 328-4788.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.


May 22, 2019

When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes was rice pilaf. It came in a slim box with a portion of rice and a sachet of spices, dehydrated chicken stock — and goodness knows what else — all set to prepare with water on the stovetop.

The results were salty, addictive and…

Homemade Rice Pilaf

May 22, 2019

Summer is almost here and that means many local restaurants and eateries will be featuring new products that pay homage to the hot summer months. They will not only cool us off with fun summer drinks and help us unwind, but help you enjoy a relaxing meal with fresh veggies, seafood and other summer…


May 22, 2019

Q: You write about eating more dark leafy greens. I don’t know what you mean. Don’t tell me to look it up on the web. I don’t use a computer. HF, Farmville

A: I of course, like all the nutrition experts, encourage you to eat more vegetables. The MIND diet, a science-based diet to…

Kolasa, Kathy

May 21, 2019

The Legacy Motown Revue is set to play the third Concert on the Common at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Greenville Toyota Amphitheater on the Town Common, 105 E. First St.

The two-hour show is the among five free events offered by Inner Banks Media with cooperation from Greenville Recreation and…


May 19, 2019

“You have a purpose — you are somebody.”

That was the message for approximately 80 senior adults at the 16th annual Senior Citizens Appreciation Ceremony from keynote speaker Willis Bernard, co-pastor of About My Father’s Business Ministries.

The three-hour lunchtime…


May 19, 2019


Patty's Place is a small downtown restaurant that serves lunch from 11 to 4. The place is busy, but quick, clean and pleasant. Patty cooks everything herself, the menu is short and the regular customers love it.

Her specialty is a large wedge of crustless green-chile quiche with a side salad…


May 19, 2019


Elizabeth City native De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, “In West Mills” might be the blackest novel set in North Carolina this year, maybe ever.

This book is all about African Americans living and struggling in eastern North Carolina from about 1940 to 1987.…

In West Mills

May 19, 2019

I love foreign languages and travel, I love alpine skiing and I love interesting local color. So when I had a chance to take a four-week paid sabbatical from work some years ago, I spent more than a year researching the perfect destination that could scratch all those itches simultaneously. Ruthie…

Bob Garner

May 19, 2019

Mom was our navigator, and her GPS was a 1966 book of maps that needed no correction for millionths of seconds.

In those days, the Global Positioning System was a military secret, so when she planned a 14,000-mile summer trip, she was on her own with pencils and a few brochures. In January she…


May 17, 2019

I’ve never thought Keanu Reeves was a great actor, but I’ve loved many of his movies.

“Point Break” was a thrill ride. The “Bill & Ted” movies were a hoot. Those “Matrix” blockbusters were memorable sci-fi. And his “John Wick” action…

210 stories in Look. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 21
        Next Page»   Last Page»