Dozens of child performers from across Suffolk County are getting set to take the stage with professional dancers this weekend for four full performances of The Nutcracker Suite at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts.
The 60 people in the cast will also be joined by about two dozen musicians forming The Atlantic Wind Symphony orchestra. There are two shows Saturday and another two Sunday, as well as a shorter, Friday matinee typically attended by area schoolchildren.
They’re being produced by Ovations Dance Repertory Company of Bohemia.
“What a way to celebrate the holidays,” said the Ovations group’s founder and artistic director, Orlando Peña. “We may not be the dancers of New York City ballet, though I’m hiring one, but this brings to Long Island the quality of performance that I’m incessantly striving for.”
Now in its 16th year, The Nutcracker Suite performances almost always sell well.
Peña believes adding the orchestra has helped bring the entire experience to a whole new level.
“This is our third year with the orchestra playing for us,” he said. “It’s just so different than a CD. Performing to live orchestras is a lot more inspiring and it just makes it all that much more special.”
The big weekend is especially special for one Patchogue family, whose 13-year-old Maggie Kassner of South Ocean Middle School is getting ready to perform as the Snow Queen.
“That’s the role most people will tell you is one of the more beautiful parts in The Nutcracker,” explained Maggie’s mom, Mary Kassner. “This is what they probably think of when they think of The Nutracker, with the music [everyone recognizes].
“It’s where Clara is in the sled and she’s asleep in her dream and this is part of her dream, where she’s going off into this fantasy world. So it’s all very beautiful.”
Maggie also performed as the main character, Clara, five years ago.
She said this role is a bigger challenge for her, mostly because it’s designed for an older performer and she’s partnering with a pro, Morgan Stinnett.
“I have to dance with a professional male dancer,” Maggie said. “I’ve never had to do this before. But he’s good. He makes it a lot easier for me because he knows what he’s doing, so he helps me out a lot.”
Maggie, who this past summer spent two weeks dancing with Joffrey Ballet’s Premier Summer Ballet Intensive, a camp in New York City for what can only be described as all-star dancers, was surprised to land the role, which she said typically goes to girls that are high school juniors or seniors.
“I didn’t really expect that I would get something like this when I was in 8th grade,” she said. “I was just really shocked kind of.”
“It was totally out of left field,” her mom further explained of the party at which Peña announced the cast. “I wish I would have known ahead of time because people saw her face and said it looked like she thought it was a joke.”
Since it’s an annual show, Peña said he likes to switch up the dances, the costume, and the ages of the characters to keep things fresh and different from the previous years’ performances.
“I make it special and a new event every year, so no one’s becoming bored,” he said. “For the audience, why would they want to come and see the same show every year? But that also helps me, as an artist, to be original and creative and change it around.”
“It’s original choreography,” he continued. “Obviously there are some special things about The Nutcracker, so you keep it, but 98 percent of it is all original. But I change the costumes, the colors, the choreography, the kids, the ages, so it keeps it interesting. And it’s showing in our ticket sales.
“People are realizing, ‘Wow we need to see this again.’”
Click here to purchase tickets or contact the theater box office at (631) 207-1313.
Photo: Maggie Kassner of Patchogue rehearses as the Snow Queen on stage at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night. (Credit: Melissa Speicher)