Danse Arts’ “Nutcracker” pays tribute to its biggest fan

Megan Callahan (right) gives some last minute pointers to the dancers in this year's production of "The Nutcracker."
Megan Callahan (right) gives some last minute pointers to the dancers in this year’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the holiday season on the South Fork is the annual production of “The Nutcracker” performed by the Conservatory of Ballet and Danse Arts every year since 1986.

Megan Callahan, who seven years ago bought the dance studio that operates out of the upstairs room of the Bridgehampton Community House, has been a part of the company’s annual holiday extravaganza since she was just three years old.

Her brother, Kevin Cancelliri was her biggest fan. For 25 years, he sat in the front row at every rehearsal and performance, chastising her for changing up the choreography he’d memorized, praising her dancing when she was a girl and her direction when she was grown.

Kevin, who had Downs Syndrome, passed away this February at the age of 31. This weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker” are dedicated to him, and Danse Arts is setting up a scholarship to the dance school in his name with some of the ticket proceeds.

On Sunday afternoon, after a short Thanksgiving break from rehearsals that began in August, about a dozen of the 50-plus dancers in the show met upstairs in the Community House to run through the company numbers. There were new pointe shoes to break in and catchings-up about goings-on at school (Kids in the company come from all around to perform — from Hampton Bays to Shelter Island to East Hampton). There were tutus and costumes to try on and adjust, there were posters to plaster around town, and there were relevés to practice in the new shoes.

But mostly there was just a dedicated commitment to making this a Nutcracker to remember.

“I don’t think my life would be complete without The Nutcracker. It’s such an innocent story, and it captures the magic of Christmas,” said Megan.

“This is difficult. It’s the first show I’m doing without my brother,” said Megan on Sunday. “He would conduct from the front row. I just know I’m going to look for him.”

This year, three principal dancers, all high school seniors, will debut in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy: Melanie Schwagerl of East Hampton, Kristian Washburn of Sag Harbor and Jade Kalbacher of Southampton. They will be partnered with Leonel Linares, a professional dancer from New York City who has danced with Danse Arts for the past three years.

“They’re all great kids. They’re hard workers,” said Megan.

Megan’s mother, Francisca Cancellieri, has been a big part of the Nutcracker for the past 25 years as well. It started when Megan was two years old, in 1986, when her mother took her to see Danse Arts’ first production of “The Nutcracker,” run then by Aras Ames and Simon Cadullo. From the moment they left the theater, all Megan could talk about was dance. Her mom fudged Megan’s age on the admission form to allow her to start dance classes a little younger that she was allowed, and by the time she was a senior in high school she was playing the lead role in the company’s productions.

Ms. Cancellieri said her daughter told her friends in eighth grade that one day she was going to own Danse Arts. By the time she was 22, she did.

She works at the studio seven days a week, teaching classes, running the school and working on new choreography for shows with teacher Betteanne Terrell.

“She changes it. She doesn’t want it to get stale. She works her butt off for this,” said Ms. Cancellieri of the production.

The performances will be held at Southampton High School Theater, 141 Narrow Lane, Southampton N.Y. on Friday Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Santa Claus will be on hand at 1 p.m. Sunday to greet children before the final matinee performance. Tickets are $15 for adults (16 and over), $10 for children (3-16) and seniors (60+). Toddlers (2 and under) are free. Tickets are available in advance at 631.537.1684, at www.dansearts.com or at the door.

 

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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