220 Children and One 'Nutcracker'

Sophie Redvers is featured in a performance of “Dance of the Snowflakes,” with Downtown Community Center’s kindergarten-to-third grade ballet class. Photo: Carl Glassman

Dec. 31, 2014

They call it “The Nutcracker.” But other than the dance classic’s title, most everything about this fifth annual production last month, by some 220 students in Manhattan Youth's after-school dance classes, was delightfully reinvented. And with the performance of 19 “scenes,” created in as many hip hop, ballet, contemporary and creative dance classes this past semester, it was also the biggest yet.

The massive undertaking brings together all those young performers onto the P.S./I.S. 89 stage, each year with new costumes, music and choreography. The production begins in the summer, when director Susan Kay selects the music that fits with each class’s style of dance.

No sooner does the school year start than the after-school dance teachers start working on it.

“It was a challenge,” said Florence Nasar, who teaches ballet to kindergartners at P.S. 225, an Upper East Side school new this year to the “Nutcracker” lineup. “They have a lot of energy and want to play around. Trying to teach them to move in unison is difficult. But in the end it was great. They enjoyed it and each got to contribute something.”

Constance Tarbox, who designs the costumes each year, has been promoted to director of elementary after-school programs but still manages to take charge of the many tutus, fanciful headgear and wildly patterned garb that help give each dance its unique look.

“This is what fills my evenings,” Tarbox said. “The costumes have been a pet project and it’s been hard to let go.”

For Susan Kay, all the work leading up to the show can feel overwhelming, she said. And then the day arrives, and the shows—two of them—go on, before a packed auditorium.

“Then it happens and I cry a little bit. It always gets me,” Kay said. “I remember why I do this.”

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