Seiskaya’s ‘Nutcracker’ returns to the Staller stage

Seiskaya’s ‘Nutcracker’ returns to the Staller stage

A scene featuring principal dancer Alexandra Palma as Sugar Plum with a host of Angels opening Act II from last year’s production of ‘The Nutcracker.’ Photo from Dimitri Papadakos

The Seiskaya Ballet School is always on point, especially around the holidays. For the past 21 years the company has performed its rendition of “The Nutcracker” at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center and this year is no different.

“Christmas is [The] Nutcracker,” said Valia Seiskaya. Russian-born Seiskaya has choreographed the school’s “Nutcracker” since 1995 when they started performing the production at the Staller Center. While “The Nutcracker” is popular around the holiday season, the ballet school took a theatrical approach to the performance. Dimitri Papadakos, the ballet school’s administrator and Seiskaya’s husband, said the  performance will include a flying sleigh, a dragon that blows smoke and other elements that will bring the performance to life.

“If you’re going to do something you might as well try to do it better than anybody else,” Papadakos said. “So we got creative in our sets.”

The backdrops for the school’s annual production are tailored specifically to the Staller Center stage. Viewers can get a hint of scenes to come by looking at the backdrops during the performance. While the production is designed for a full theatrical experience  that will keep even the youngest audience members glued to their seats, the dramatic setting isn’t the only captivating aspect of Seiskaya’s “Nutcracker” — it’s also about the acting and dancing of the production’s 90- to 100-member cast.

Soloist Diana Atoian is returning for another shot at “The Nutcracker.” Like many “Nutcracker” performers, 14-year-old Diana has several roles including Clara. She said what makes Seiskaya’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” so unique is the dancers dedication to their craft.

“It’s just the passion that gets us going,” Diana said. “Valia is a very good teacher. She helps us feel it and she makes us want to keep pushing and keep moving forward.”

Her fellow soloists, 13-year-old Madison Mursch, 12-year-old Brianna Jimenez and 14-year-old Jenna Lee agreed that Papadakos and Seiskaya push their dancers to execute the choreography and acting correctly. Being strict is part of Seiskaya’s method and it has been since the school was established in 1974.

“My wife does not believe in dumbing down based on who’s available,” Papadakos said. “You’ve got to rise to the occasion.”

Last year the school lost a handful of its older dancers who went on to college. The change left youngsters like Diana, Madison, Jenna and Brianna to take the lead on bigger roles like Clara, the Snow Queen, Sugar Plum and the Chocolate Soldier, respectively. Twyla Tharp Troupe dancer Nick Coppula will be returning to reclaim his role as the Cavalier this year.

Viewers can see these young dancers and get the full theatrical experience on Friday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19, at 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20, at 1 and 6 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 21,  at 7 p.m. at the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University. Tickets are $40 for adults, $34 for children and seniors and $30 for groups of 20 or more. For more information call 631-632-ARTS or visit www.nutcrackerballet.com.