By Kristi Casey Sanders

In 1979, Barry Hughson came home from school and told his mother he was starting a theater company. Thrilled, she started rummaging for some old blankets he could hang up and use for a set. The 11-year-old gently told his mother that he already had a real theater. “I had gone to the church and asked the priest if we could do shows in the church basement,” Hughson remembers. His father was so impressed with Barry’s ambition, he enlisted an attorney to draw up the 501(c)(3) paperwork, recruited an adult board of directors and Connecticut’s Youth Theatre Ensemble was born. “I cut my teeth on it, and it lasted for 20 years,” Hughson says.

As executive director for the Atlanta Ballet, Hughson is no less ambitious. “For a number of years, the organization has grappled with significant debt; I am working on restructuring and retiring that debt,” Hughson says.

“I think its longevity is amazing,” he continues. “It is the oldest continuously operating ballet company in America. If a nonprofit arts organization can survive the test of time, that’s saying something. With the dancers and the Centre for Dance Education … there’s a high level of excellence and it’s exciting. Atlanta is a really exciting city; it’s growing and the cultural scene is really starting to emerge and change and grow. It’s the perfect time to be in this city and in this job.”

This month, Atlanta Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty , with choreography by John McFall based on the original choreography by Marius Petipa (1822-1910). “It’s one of the great story ballets, and it’s been a number of years since Atlanta Ballet has performed it,” Hughson says. “It’s a really great vehicle for bringing young audiences to the ballet and … introducing them to this beautiful art form.”

Hughson also is looking forward to the ballet’s 2007-2008 season. “It’s a nice balance of family attractions and shows for an educated dance crowd. In October, there’s a full-length Peter Pan . In December, we have 28 performances of Nutcracker . [Next] February, we have Romeo & Juliet and a family production, to be announced. In March, we are doing In the Upper Room by Twyla Tharp; and in April, we will have the premiere of a full-length work. It’s a collaboration that I can tell you nothing about, except that it combines our art form with one of the art forms Atlanta is famous for.

“I am delighted to be a part of this city,” he adds. “I think the future of this organization is bright, or else I wouldn’t be here.”

Sleeping Beauty plays The Fabulous Fox Theatre May 3-13.