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Harbor Ballet Theatre

Harbor Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Sometimes I think how lucky I am to live here. One of those times was this past week when my life was greatly enhanced by what is around me. Now I don’t want to come off as a Pollyanna. There are also times when I’m not feeling so lucky — as when the property tax bill arrives, which it will shortly and with a new total that includes a compounded increase. Fortunately, I only have to think about that twice a year but, on the upside, I can appreciate regularly the advantages of village living.

I will share with you what happened last week, in chronological order. On Wednesday, Dec. 4, I went to an Emerson String Quartet concert at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center. The Emerson is a world-famous act, whose upcoming performances are heralded on large posters in front of Lincoln Center in New York City. But I don’t have to go into the city to hear them play superbly on an evening. And I don’t have to pay exorbitant prices to park my car or spend many minutes looking for a distant parking place. 

Here, I can park in the adjacent SBU garage for free — one of my favorite four-letter words. I also don’t have to drive two hours to get to the concert site and then two hours back late at night. In a matter of minutes, I can reach the campus, park the car and be in my seat waiting for the illustrious four to walk on stage and begin to play. I can return home without traffic in similar fashion. And the cost of the tickets to hear one of the most honored classical music groups on the globe? Little more than half of that charged in the Big Apple. After such a performance, I return home serenely happy.

That was Wednesday. On the Friday, I walked and rode along the pitch black roads of Old Field South, moving from house to house for the Three Village Historical Society’s Candlelight House Tour. The harrowing driving in the maze of streets that make up that development, built by tycoon Ward Melville starting in 1929, was rewarded by the bright lights and cheer inside the homes open for a walk-through. The homes are artfully decorated and several members of the society tell us about the history of each. All of that is donated for the sake of the organization. And did I mention the food? There are tidbits and wine at each stop on the Friday night event, supplied generously by local restaurants. There were six houses, plus Old Field Farm, on the fundraising tour, which ends with lots more food and drink at the Old Field Club. It seems like half the community turns out for the festivities.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that while I love history, with its stories and larger-than-life people, I am also an incorrigible snoop when it comes to checking out the insides of people’s homes. One can tell so much about those that dwell there and also get a couple of decorating ideas for one’s own abode.

Then Sunday afternoon I capped a visit to the Dickens Festival in beautifully decorated Port Jefferson with a performance of that holiday favorite, “The Nutcracker.” This one was presented by the Harbor Ballet Theatre and the talented students of Amy Tyler School of Dance, with the help of a trio of marvelous New York City professionals. For 10 years straight I saw “The Nutcracker” at City Center in Manhattan. It was a holiday tradition as I was growing up, but I had not seen the ballet since then until this thrilling show. I was reminded all over again how charming a ballet and how much I love Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s music.

A quick trip then to the grand tree lighting on the Stony Brook village green, and then back to my living room. I say, this was not a bad way to spend a weekend, all nasty cracks about the sterile suburbs aside. Yes, I enjoy the delights of the city, but they are hard to compare with the comforts of home.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

By Kevin Redding

Toy soldiers, angels, sword-wielding mice and a sugar plum fairy are back in town to spread the magic of Christmas to audiences young and old.

For more than two decades, the North Shore community has looked to Port Jefferson’s Harbor Ballet Theatre to officially kick off the holiday season each year with its dazzling production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”Coming up on its 25th anniversary production, the not-for-profit dance company gears up to deliver another unforgettable spectacle. John Worrell, executive artistic director of the show, said that the calibre of their production has helped it become a holiday tradition among the community.

“The dancing, the dancers, the choreography and the sets are incredible,” said Worrell. “Just the way that we tell the story is very understandable and very easy for everyone to follow. It really sets the tone for Port Jefferson and Setauket and Stony Brook and Miller Place because everybody gravitates to get that holiday feeling.”

Harbor Ballet Theatre was founded in 1991 by Worrell and his wife Amy Tyler as an open company to give dancers of all ages the opportunity to be part of professionally staged ballet productions. Worrell said it was also created to allow anybody from anywhere to come and audition, which is why there are so many new faces on a year-to-year basis as well as longtime dancers.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.
A scene from last year’s performance of ‘The Nutracker.’ Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

This production will feature about 70 performers, a majority of them between the ages 6 and 25. Auditions were held in the second week of September and the first rehearsal took place on the first weekend of October, giving way to 10 to 12 strenuous yet worthwhile rehearsals before the final show. Some of the senior dancers in the show even committed six to seven days a week for at least two hours a day to rehearsal.

“That whole debate whether dance is a sport … they [dancers] train like athletes,” said Worrell. “They work drills everyday. To be able to get to the level they want to be and be able to do their solos in the second act and lift each other up, they have to work their butts off.”

Richard Liebert and Rebecca Stafford, seniors from Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, are among some of the more experienced dancers in the production. Liebert, who plays the Mouse King, said there are a lot of physical challenges.

“There are times [in the show] where I have to lift a girl over my head and turn her,” said Liebert. “It could be a bit intimidating … but it’s worthwhile. I love doing it.”

“We’re with our friends, so we’re having fun,” said Stafford, who plays Harlequin.

Worrell said that at the start of production, he and Amy watched the DVD from the previous year’s show and figured out what, if anything, they wanted to change. The most common changes year-to-year have to do with solos, which depend on the dancers in the show, what their strengths are, and what they feel most comfortable doing.

Worrell said that there are plans to add a new element this year but wants to keep it a surprise and “make sure that it works first.”“We try to add something new every year, every two years … just to keep it fresh, so the audience will find it fun to watch,” he said.

Join Harbor Ballet Theatre in celebrating its 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” and prepare to be swept away by the extravagant sets, rich costumes, passionate acting and dancing and Tchaikovsky’s masterful music.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson. All seats are $25 in advance, cash or check only. For more information, please call 631-331-3149.