In the beginning, there was “The Nutcracker.” As a professional dancer, Veronika Farkas knew all about it. What Farkas knew less about was Thanksgiving.
“I’m originally from Hungary, not from here,” said Farkas, the founding artistic director of VF Dance Theater. “So, this ‘Thanksgiving,’ it’s an American thing, and I always thought, well, we do ‘The Nutcracker’ for Christmas; it would be a cool idea to do something for Thanksgiving.”
That something is “Turkeypalooza,” an interactive exploration of the history, tradition and meaning of the holiday that started as a harvest festival in 1621. Written and choreographed by Farkas, the show centers around an American girl’s attempts to explain Thanksgiving to a visiting exchange student from Hungary — with some help from the children in the audience.
“It’s basically a comedy for young audiences about Thanksgiving,” she explained. “There’s a lot of physical comedy, but there is also an educational element: you have to explain about the tradition, starting with how the Pilgrims came over to America, the traditional food, the turkey-eating and the parade. We kind of go through everything that’s important about Thanksgiving.”
For Farkas that’s more than just turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. “It’s not only about the shopping and the food,” she noted. “Yes, it’s a holiday, yes, it’s fun to get together, but what’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving? It’s not the food and what you buy; it’s being thankful. You have to think about the history and the opportunities that we have. There’s so much more to it.”
As an immigrant, Farkas said it took years for her to figure out the meaning of Thanksgiving. She started out joining friends at their celebrations; now, it’s all about spending quality time with her own family. “In this country, with so many holidays and so many cultures, Thanksgiving is the only time that people stop,” she said. “From Thursday to Sunday, everything stops, everybody can chill a little bit because everybody is celebrating it. And we usually enjoy that — the quiet, relaxing part of Thanksgiving.”
In the run-up to Thanksgiving, her life is anything but quiet and relaxing. Taking the holiday’s themes of gratitude and caring to heart, “Turkeypalooza” is going on a pre-holiday tour to Disney World, performing and volunteering at the nonprofit Give Kids the World Village.
“We’ll be working with kids who have terminal illnesses,” Farkas explained. “We’re not performing at the park, for Disney, but for the kids who ‘make a wish’ and want to do a Disney vacation.”
After that, it’s back to Montgomery County, where “Turkeypalooza” unfolds as part of the Just for Families series presented by Arts on the Green at the Arts Barn in the Kentlands. Recommended for children, ages 3 and older, the show is designed to nurture age-appropriate developmental skills — counting, reading and problem-solving — while making them laugh.
“The character is kind of like Junie B. Jones,” Farkas said, referring to the popular children’s book character created by Barbara Park. “She goes over the top, and kind of crosses that fourth wall, so the audience gets very involved: ‘How am I going to explain Thanksgiving?’ and ‘Can you guys help me?’”
Some audience members are invited up onstage; everyone gets to join in a “turkey dance” at the show’s end and do a craft with the cast afterward. It’s a cast that includes Farkas; in addition to writing, choreographing and directing “Turkeypalooza,” she’ll perform along with dancer Amanda Mendez, a VF instructor, and a chorus of dancing teenagers from VF Dance Theater.
“I love the theater world, and I’m a trained professional dancer,” said Farkas, who underwent a rigorous European dance education and spent her childhood touring the world with shows like “Les Misérables” and “Evita” before training at Maryland Youth Ballet, the Alvin Ailey School, Broadway Dance Center and ultimately, the University of Maryland, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in dance (performance/choreography) and dance education. “If you put it together, the two loves that I have are ‘dance-theater.’”
Since its founding 15 years ago, VF Dance Theater has used modern, ballet, jazz, lyrical, hip hop and cultural dance to tell stories. “Turkeypalooza” takes it to a new level.
“I write an original show every year and all the pieces connect to tell the story,” Farkas explained. “It’s kind of like writing a script when you do a play, but you’re doing it with choreography.”
Because “Turkeypalooza” is geared toward younger children, there are more lines — and more jokes. Farkas hints that kids are not the only ones who will enjoy it. “Adults actually crack up, it’s so silly,” she said. “I think everyone will have a good time.”
Arts on the Green presents “Turkeypalooza” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg. Admission is $15. Purchase tickets online at https://artsonthegreen.ticketfly.com/event/1704417. For information, call 301-258-6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov.