HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Louis Hodge, who plays the emperor in this year's Heidelberg Youth Ballet Theater, couldn't say what part he enjoyed the most in the May 23 performance of "The Emperor and the Nightingale."

"I have to dance four different solos with the girls, and if I say I prefer one over the other I would get in major trouble," said Hodge, 17, who has been dancing for nine years. "I just enjoy dancing in general. It's a lot of fun, it's a lot of work ... The entire show in general is satisfying to do."

The full-length story ballet, this year adapted from H.C. Anderson, is the idea of Isabel Christie, Production director.

Thinking of her childhood, Christie said, "I loved stories, and I loved being in the middle of a fairy tale and I wanted to give that experience to the children who are dancing over here."

For the past 20 years, Christie has been bringing that fairy tale experience to the children enrolled in the Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills Unlimited ballet classes.

Each year she produces a story ballet for her advanced children - ages 8-18 - and a separate recital-type performance is held for beginner and primary classes and for other dance classes, according to Christian Praesent, SKIES Unlimited manager.

"From year to year the chemistry changes and then it's part of my job to figure out how each group interacts," Christie said.

"Perhaps they are a feisty little bunch of dragons, like this year, where they really love expressing their personalities and jumping around and scaring people," Christie said of the 47 dancers in the performance.

"With this ballet I created it totally new and from the people who I have as my soloists," she said. "I tailor made the roles to suit each personality."

Rachel Gill, 17, who recently moved from Virginia where she was part of a dance company, and was exposed to jazz dance, said her role really suited her teaching experiences so far. She played the mechanical nightingale.

"I do really like the part where all the different countries come in because the music is very fun and lively," Gill said. "I do a bit more dancing and it's more mechanical, more jazzy than some of the other dances."

Courtney Best, 17, played the nightingale, and said that Christie knows her dance style, because she has been her only instructor for the five years she has danced, and she is still surprised when a show comes together.

"It's just amazing," Best said, "because it goes from weeks to weeks and you never think it's going to come together, and at the last minute it just seems like it clicks."

Helping make everything click is an army of volunteers, Praesent said.

"We're dependant on volunteers big time," he said.

It all comes together, "as if by magic," Christie said jokingly, adding, "do you see (my) grey hairs'"

(Editor's Note: Jason Austin writes for the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)"