'A lot of magic': Local dancers aim to bring holiday cheer with upcoming 'Nutcracker' performance

After months of exhaustive rehearsing, ballet dancers from SI Dance studio in Williamsburg will finally be able to show off their hard work at two live performances of The Nutcracker next weekend.

The dedicated performers, who range in age from 6 to 18, have spent countless hours getting ready for the big show, which will be held at Crosswalk Church in Norge at 7:00 pm on Friday, Dec. 10 and Saturday, Dec. 11.

Noelle Schatzel, creative arts director for SI Dance, said that beginning in early September, the dancers attend mandatory rehearsals every Saturday and Sunday – and most Fridays – leading all the way up to the performance.

Kyrie Mims and Caroline Hood in the Russian “Trepak” dance in studio rehearsals. (All photographs courtesy of Heather Booysen Photography).

“I get there on Saturday and Sunday at 10 in the morning, and we leave anywhere between 6 and 8:30 at night,” Schatzel said. “These kids have to make the time commitment, which they seem grateful to do.”

Schatzel said that despite the intensity of the schedule, the studio maintains a very positive environment, and the kids have a lot of fun.

“It’s a long day, but I tried to build some tradition even into the rehearsals,” said Schatzel. “We have a pancake breakfast where my husband brings a griddle and makes pancakes. It’s a bonding experience, truly, for the whole studio.”

Schatzel said she and the performers are especially enthusiastic about the upcoming show because last year, the pandemic led to tremendous challenges.

Talk of Covid-19 spreading through the United States dominated the nation’s news circuits shortly after SI Studio wrapped up its first-ever performance of The Nutcracker in December of 2019.

Not long after, everything changed.

“The following year, in 2020, we were in the middle of shutdowns, and the kids were taking dance classes, school classes, everything on Zoom,” Schatzel said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to do The Nutcracker.’ There was too much uncertainty around it.”

But the kids begged the studio not to cancel the show. Schatzel said the students’ insistence was symbolic of their need for something constant in their lives, especially because they were unable to participate in typical school activities or events due to the pandemic.

While Schatzel agreed to allow the kids to start rehearsing at the studio, committing to The Nutcracker at the height of the pandemic wasn’t easy. Every student who signed up to participate understood that they would have to follow all governor mandates, at all times.

“Everybody was masked 100 percent of the time,” said Schatzel. “We cleaned non-stop.”

Dancers in “Waltz of the Flowers” rehearsing in the studio. (All photographs courtesy of Heather Booysen Photography).

Families were also informed that if a Covid-19 outbreak occurred or if the studio was forced to shut down at any time, the performance would be canceled altogether.

The dancers agreed to the terms and showed up anyway.

“I think it really spoke to me that all of these families were willing to invest in something that might not go on,” Schatzel said. “So, we all committed our weekends, and we made it through without anybody getting Covid or shutting down the production. And we did it with all of the governor’s mandates in place.”

While the mask requirement tested the students’ endurance, Schatzel said a devoted parent volunteer, Catherine Grossman, turned the challenge into an adventure by making masks to match every costume. Grossman got creative, designing masks with beards for the dancers who performed as Russian dancers in the “Trepak” scene and making veils with masks underneath for the Arabian dance number.

“She did a phenomenal job,” Schatzel said of Grossman. “It was important that we tried to keep the magic.”

Despite the masking, sanitizing and limited capacity requirements, last year’s performance went on.

“Honestly, it was a blessing those nights for the community here, too, because it was just this small sense of normalcy for everybody,” Schatzel said.

Battle scene from “The Nutcracker.” (All photographs courtesy of Heather Booysen Photography).

Bethany Jean Taylor, a junior at Warhill High School who plays Clara in this year’s show, said that amid the many challenges presented by the pandemic, The Nutcracker has been vital in giving the performers something to continually look forward to. The dancers, she said, are also eager for the community to see the results of the countless hours they’ve spent in practice and rehearsals.

“We all put our blood, sweat and tears into this and put in so much time rehearsing every weekend for so long,” said Taylor, who has performed in all three of SI Dance’s Nutcracker shows. “It all leads up to that one final moment, and that’s so rewarding.”

Bethany Clara Ad. Bethany Jean Taylor as Clara. (All photographs courtesy of Heather Booysen Photography).

While the show will be held in a church, Schatzel said those attending should expect a full-scale theater environment, complete with a professional sound system and lighting, as well as special effects, including snow.

“I hope they realize that they’re going to walk into as pre-professional of a program as I can throw with a youth cast – an incredibly talented youth cast. It’s a lot of magic.”

Schatzel and the dancers have also gotten creative in promoting the upcoming performance. For Small Business Saturday, the kids set out into the community to take themed photos in their costumes to encourage people to support both local businesses and the local arts.

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Ultimately, while not all of the 60 performers in the show will grow up to be professional ballet dancers, Schatzel hopes each student will look back fondly upon the experience for years to come.

“I hope we’re making lifelong lovers of the arts and ballet, but also good memories for these kids.”

To purchase tickets to The Nutcracker – and support the talented dancers in our community – visit https://27757.danceticketing.com.

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