Before the 8 p.m. curtain rises on Friday's opening night performance of North Coast Dance's “The Nutcracker” at the Arkley Center in Eureka, it will already be a very special night for a very special person: Lora Canzoneri.

At 6:30 p.m. in the Arkley Center lobby, North Coast Dance is inviting ticketholders to join them during a gala opening night reception to celebrate longtime board member Canzoneri's being honored with emeritus status -- the very first time this prestigious status has been granted.

According to North Coast Dance Executive Director Kris Beck, she, the 13-member board of directors and artistic director Danny Furlong agreed to award this status to respected, recently retired board member Canzoneri.

Emeritus is an honorary title of respect awarded to an individual who has “retired” from active participation, but whose personal and professional contributions to an organization deserve permanent recognition.

“Lora's been actively involved with the company ever since its beginnings several decades ago, as Redwood Coast Ballet and then North Coast Dance,” Beck said. “Over the years, she volunteered her talents on stage -- appearing numerous times in the annual 'Nutcracker' productions as Mother Ginger in charge of the mischievous little Bon Bons who emerged every year from her gingerbread house.

”And, behind the scenes, she continued to be passionately dedicated to helping the company overcome its ongoing artistic and financial challenges with her personal support and input.”

To do so, Canzoneri became a board member and held several important positions, including longtime secretary, to keep things running smoothly. In addition, this Humboldt County native and her husband Joel Canzoneri have been loyal financial contributors to the company.

”Nutcracker” audiences have seen the pair on stage on many opening nights, warmly welcoming them to the ballet before the curtain, then returning at intermission to present a coveted nutcracker prize to a lucky winner.

And, that's where you can count on seeing Lora Canzoneri this opening night: On the Arkley Center stage, where she belongs, once again warmly welcoming 2012 audiences to the ballet she loves so dearly.

Join North Coast Dance as the company celebrates Lora Canzoneri's Emeritus status. It's an honor she has tirelessly earned, and so richly deserves. Brava, Lora, brava!