PLATTSBURGH - The North Country Ballet Ensemble doesn't just love having children in the audience for their performances, they enjoy having them on stage as well.
The ensemble's upcoming annual production of "The Nutcracker" features several children who are both new to the stage and what some would consider seasoned veterans.
Madison Cleveland, a 6th-grade student at Beekmantown Middle School, has been performing in The Nutcracker for the past five years, though said she still loves being on stage.
"Ballet is a story told without words, just by movement," she said. "It's really a lot of fun."
Madison said she particularly likes The Nutcracker, which tells the story of a young girl named Claire who receives a nutcracker on Christmas Eve, then dreams of being transported to a magical world with the nutcracker, who becomes a prince.
"Ever since I was a little girl and saw The Nutcracker for the first time, I knew that I really, really wanted to play the role of Claire. Now, my dream has come true," said Madison.
It took many hours of practice, said Madison, but her hard work paid off. And, so did the work of Eydon Thomashow, a 7th-grader at Saranac Lake Middle School. Eydon also gets to play the role of Claire, with the two girls alternating who plays Claire during the seven performances the ensemble is hosting between Plattsburgh and Lake Placid.
Being in a production like The Nutcracker, said Eydon, is something she feels any child would be able to enjoy.
"I've been dancing since I was about 3 years old," said Eydon. "I like the way it makes me feel good even if I'm having a bad day."
Madison and Eydon said they were nervous the first time they each stepped onto the stage, but were quick to say that's something that's completely normal.
"Usually, with the first performance you're nervous but then with the second or third you're not as much," said Madison.
"Yeah, after the second or third you feel like you can basically do anything," added Eydon.
Madison's younger brother, Paul, a 2nd-grade student at Cumberland Head Elementary, said he was nervous at first, too. However, Paul is taking the stage this year playing the part of a boy at a party and a soldier.
"The cool part is you get to wear really, really nice costumes," said Paul, "and you get to use really nice props like fake swords, trumpets, trombones."
"Plus, it helps you get more flexible for football and baseball and stuff like that," added Paul, who said ballet teaches good coordination and balance.
Julia Drollette, a third-grade student at Morrisonville Elementary School, gets the chance to play a sugar plum attendant and a soldier this year. The first time she was in The Nutcracker, which was two years ago, she played the part of a mouse. Last year, she got the part of a girl at the party.
Her hard work and determination has helped her get bigger parts each year.
"It was cool," Julia said about learning she received bigger parts in the production this year. "I like acting. It's fun."
Korinne Stay, a 12th-grader at Beekmantown High School said she remembers being Julia's age and just starting on her path to performing. Korinne had the role of a party girl, too, and eventually received more challenging parts over the years.
Korinne, who now plays the role of the Mouse King, said she remembers being nervous on stage when she was younger.
"I remember being a little intimidated," said Korinne, "but I really liked it and stayed with it. I definitely enjoy it."
Korinne agreed that performing is hard work.
"It can be crazy, but it's worth it," she said. "I really like hearing how people like it. It's a good reward for all the people who do it."
Each of the young performers said the one thing that makes being in a production like The Nutcracker so worthwhile isn't something that's seen on stage - the friendships made between them.
"I've made a lot of new friends," Madison said as she sat with Eydon.
"You do get to meet a lot of nice people," said Eydon, who added the instructors are among the nice people who help them become better performers. "They've helped us come a long way and without them, we wouldn't be here," she said.
"Ballet is something that's amazing to watch. Especially, if it's a good show like ours," added Korinne, laughing.
The North Country Ballet Ensemble's performance of The Nutcracker began at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh's Hartman Theatre Nov. 27. Performances will continue Saturday, Nov. 28, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. The final Plattsburgh show will be Sunday, Nov. 29, at 2 p.m.
The Nutcracker will also be performed at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Drive, Lake Placid. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.
For more information, including ticket prices, go on-line to www.balletplattsburgh.org or call 534-9334 or 523-2512.