Published November 13. 2013 4:00AM
Norwich - About 50 people ranging in age from 5 to 60 are cramming for a very public test this weekend, but they don't seem to be nervous about it.
"It will come together. It always does," said Lori Lesko, vice president of the Norwich Figure Skating Club and producer of the club's marquee event, "Nutcracker on Ice."
The show will be the first major event in the recently reopened Norwich Municipal Ice Rink this weekend. And because of the mechanical troubles that kept the rink closed for several months, the skaters and an accompanying dance troupe will have half the usual time to practice for a show that will feature many changes and a few surprises.
"Nutcracker on Ice" will be performed both Saturday and Sunday.
Lesko said practices usually start in early September, but the rink didn't reopen until Oct. 8. Not only did that force the club to put the show together "in record time," the uncertainty also prevented the club from promoting the show ahead of time.
Dozens of skaters made their way to the rink Saturday for a three-hour full-group practice. As skaters donned their skates and greeted one another with smiles and snapped photos, show director Sara Bailey, 23, of Norwich, advised skaters on their costumes and organized the chaos.
This is Bailey's first time directing the Norwich show, but she brings a long resume of experience to the production. Bailey started skating at the Norwich rink 10 years ago and performed in the Nutcracker. She then tried out for Team U.S.A. and traveled with the national team before joining Holiday on Ice for a European tour that included performances in Germany, France, Switzerland and Holland in 2010-11.
This is the 15th annual performance of "Nutcracker on Ice" in Norwich. The show signals the start of the city's Winter Festival that runs through Christmas with various events.
Expect some surprises this year, however, as Bailey is trying to "beef up" the show so it won't seem stale for the skaters or repetitive to the audience. Along with composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky's music, the Norwich show will add rock and techno elements. For the first time, off-ice dancers from 3-D Dance Studio in downtown Norwich will join the show.
In total, about 50 skaters and dancers will perform this weekend, including 5-year-old Kali Pomerenke of Mansfield, who will perform in her first Nutcracker.
"I'm going to be a mouse!" she proudly declared on Saturday.
Kali has a head start on the show's leading male performer. Paul Rizzo, 20, of Wethersfield, who will play the Nutcracker prince, didn't start ice skating until he was 15, a late start for a sport that often grabs enthusiasts at Kali's age.
Rizzo, a junior at Central Connecticut State University, grew up doing gymnastics and a host of other sports, including in-line roller skating. "Then I just decided to try ice skating." He met Bailey while they both were skating at the rink in Cromwell. He is now competing at the junior men's level in national events.
"It's always fun to perform," he said of the Nutcracker show. "It's really nice that (Bailey) asked me to do it."
Kylie Gromko, 16, of Norwich recalled her early days of skating at age 7, when, like Kali, she played small roles in the Norwich annual Nutcracker show. She always looked up to the skater playing Clara, the lead female role. This year, Gromko will be Clara and finds herself mentoring the younger skaters on the ice.
"I like to make sure they are having fun," said Gromko, a junior at Norwich Free Academy. "I tell them to smile and have fun."