By Linda Green
The houselights go down. The orchestra plays. The Mayo Performing Arts Center is hushed with anticipation.
Gradually, a scene illuminates and children dance onto the stage. The audience can relate.
That’s because the crowd comprises 325 kids, ranging from kindergartners to 8th-graders. They are watching a dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker performed by the New Jersey Ballet.
Many of these kids are from the Morristown Neighborhood House, a nonprofit that has helped immigrants and working families for more than a century.
It’s the first ballet most of these youths have ever seen; some never have set foot inside a theater before.
Nutcracker proves to be an ideal introduction. There is a live symphony. Cannons boom. Strobe lights flash. Snowflakes flutter. People fly through the air. Gymnasts perform amazing flips and kids gasp, point towards the stage, and applaud spontaneously.
“This was one of the best audiences I’ve ever seen,” veteran usher Donna Parris says afterwards. “They were so into the performance!”
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Melina Morales, 9, says her favorite part is when the Nutcracker character comes alive.
Brendon Mendez, 7, likes the boom of the cannon, which he compares to a bomb. His friend, Dereck Delione, 8, favors the strobe lights, which he describes as 3D. One little girl starts “air conducting,” waving her hands above her head to the music.
The kids behave well, especially considering they already have had a full school day and have missed their afternoon snack, says Patrice Picard, executive director of Cornerstone Family Programs, the Nabe’s parent organization.
Nancy Hartmann, marketing director of the New Jersey Ballet, has worked with Michael Dundon of MPAC to bring kids from the Nabe and other area schools to this dress rehearsal.
“There are kids who would not otherwise see this,” Hartmann explains after the show. “These kids were a great audience. Their enthusiasm, their applause…they really appreciated the experience.”
Last year, Nancy arranged for buses to transport children from the Shore, after Hurricane Sandy.
“I hope they get a sense of appreciation. This is something they’ve never seen before. They haven’t been to too many places,” says Lashone Murphy, director of arts and recreation at the Nabe.
Angie Machado, 10, seems to get the message.
“It was really good,” he says as his friends stream from the matinee. “I liked when all the different cultures met together. It was really fun.”
Of course, ballet is an acquired taste.
“It was long,” first-grader Mahayla Bell says. “I’m hungry!”
The New Jersey Ballet performs this holiday classic through Christmas Eve 2013
100 South St., Morristown
Call 973-539-8008 for information.