PITTSFIELD — For almost 10 years, Michael Maddalena has enjoyed watching his daughters, Taylor and Gianna, perform in "The Nutcracker" ballet every December. Some years, he sat up close. Some years, he sat toward the back. This year, he'll have the best seat in the house — on stage.
"I told my daughter, Gianna, I want to be up there," he said, after he saw the performance from the balcony last year. From that angle, he enjoyed the performance of the dancers on stage as always, but also caught a glimpse of the magic happening in the wings backstage.
Maddalena said he has always been a proud parent watching in the audience, and respected the hard work and talent of the professional dancers on stage. But it was from his balcony view that he realized how much work must go on behind the scenes that audiences never see or take for granted.
Parents can volunteer to assist with the performance, often backstage and sometimes on stage, as well. At the next rehearsal, Gianna, 13, who will play a soldier this year, told her instructors her father wanted to play a role in the upcoming performance and they knew just the part for him.
So, next weekend — and for one weekend only — Pittsfield Police Detective Lieutenant Maddalena will don large eyelashes, red lips and a hoop skirt wide enough to hide 10 young dancers as he makes his debut performance as Mother Ginger for the Albany Berkshire Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Colonial Theater.
"This is the first year I've been involved in the performance, for any production," Maddalena said. "Seeing all the work that goes on behind the scenes first-hand, I have a lot more respect for the performers," he said. Although he is very excited, Maddalena did say he feels a bit nervous for the performance. He has attended all 10 of the rehearsals, and even got his hands on a VHS tape of "The Nutcracker" to prepare for his role.
The Albany Berkshire Ballet will present its 43rd year of "The Nutcracker" at five locations during this holiday season. Berkshire County residents can see the show at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, as well as at The Egg in Albany, N.Y. A professional group of dancers will perform principal roles throughout this tour, while younger ballerinas from each of the area locations will join them on stage.
"Kids from any of the schools have a chance to dance with the professional dancers," Kimberly Stuart, an administrator for Albany Berkshire Ballet said. "The students audition and it's very inclusive," she said, noting that the age of local children in this performance is about 4 and older. Many of the dancers have been with Cantarella School of Dance for many years, dancing in several different roles throughout their time. "A lot of the older kids assist the younger dancers because they've been in that spot," Stuart said.
Cantarella School of Dance is the official school of the Albany Berkshire Ballet, which holds rehearsals in Pittsfield. It offers lessons in disciplined ballet training, as well as modern, lyrical, jazz and tap classes for students ages 3 and older.
For professional dancers, a performance is part of the job. For young dancers, a chance to be on stage is a new, thrilling experience. What's the best part about being in "The Nutcracker"?
"The makeup!" said 8-year-old Sunny Cart, who has been dancing for five years. She will be dressed as a clown with rosy cheeks for the show.
Lauren Strassell, 8, said ballet is her favorite. She has been dancing for four years and said being able to perform on stage is "a lot of fun."
For Gabriella Egan, 7, who has been dancing for three years, the best part of being in "The Nutcracker" is the dance moves. "It's exciting. My favorite part is when we get to do the `pow,'" she said. When the ballet mistress Deidre Swindlehurst yells "pow" the dancers jump with arms stretched forward on the beat.
In total, there are about 130 to 140 young dancers who will join the professional cast for "The Nutcracker," according to Stuart. She said parents enjoy coming to the show because they get to watch their children perform in a real ballet alongside professional dancers.
"Parents are always excited to be there," she said.