‘The Nutcracker’ comes to life with local dancers

Anthony Edwards / Staff file photo

Anthony Edwards / Staff file photo

By Patricia Minichiello

What’s unique about the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s production of the timeless ballet, “The Nutcracker,” is that local children perform in every show.

The group visits seven cities and three states hosting auditions for young reindeer, mice and even signature roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara.

“While we have a traveling professional dance company we incorporate the neighborhood children,” said Cheryl Cantarella, rehearsal mistress for the Rutland cast.

Cantarella, who is also the executive administrator for the company, has been traveling to Rutland every weekend since October from Pittsfield, Mass., to prepare for the performance. Auditions were held at Miss Jackie’s Studio of Dance in Rutland and rehearsals started every Sunday after that.

The Albany Berkshire Ballet’s production of the perennial holiday favorite, set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, will be presented at 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Paramount Theatre.

Lovers of “The Nutcracker” will recall the story centers on young Clara who has a magical dream on Christmas Eve. In the dream, she enters a world where toys become larger than life and her beloved Nutcracker comes to life to defend her from the Mouse King.

Sofia DeMonico, a 14-year-old who is part of the company’s traveling ensemble, plays the signature role of Clara for the Rutland production. She said she has been dancing since the age of 2 and is thrilled to be in show. Her favorite part is meeting new dancers, who quickly become good friends.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I like being able to meet new people.”

Artistic Director Madeline Cantarella Culpo founded the ballet company in 1960 and said her favorite part of her career is still teaching dance to the newest dancers of the bunch.

“I love teaching the young children,” she said. “Children grow up on “Nutcracker” and the experience is wonderful for them and really carries on into their adult life. They are very focused on what they set out to do.”

Cantarella Culpo said dance helps students with their attitude in life as well.

“They have a wonderful attitude. The discipline in the arts carries with you later into life. Because you are so disciplined you have the determination, fortitude, all those things.”

This year there are 25 students from Rutland County in the performance. Their parts range from reindeer to mini mice, to party children in the first act and angels in the second.

“Children from Rutland are so excited,” Cantarella Culpo said. “And Cheryl did the rehearsals for them and she did a great job.”

Cheryl Cantarella happens to be Madeline Cantarella Culpo’s daughter-in-law.

And she too loves teaching and watching the youngest dancers in the group.

“The younger they are, they don’t even really have to dance. The little reindeer are 4 years old. They steal the show, those little reindeer.”