All photos courtesy of P.S. 9.
Normally, P.S. 9's performance of “The Nutcracker” packs a 1,000-seat auditorium. During a pandemic, that's not possible.
"Last year, we were supposed to do a spring dance and we didn’t get to do it, so I was a little worried because it’s my last year at that school and it’s one of the highlights of the school year,” said Ella Rose Behre-Lumax, a fifth grader at the school.
But the show must go on, and with the help of some parents who are filmmakers, dance teacher Iris Wilson found a way.
"I had to,” Wilson said. “For my sanity, for the children and their happiness, they look forward to it every year, so yeah I had to make something happen for them."
That something is a meticulously edited performance of the Nutcracker that takes its cues from the blended learning that's defined this year, mixing and matching at-home and in-person dances.
"You will see children in their personal homes around their Christmas tree dancing, and then you will see children on our playground, which is the Land of Sweets, coming together socially distanced in their masks and dancing,” Wilson said.
It was a new kind of performing for Saya Ramanurthy, also a fifth grader.
"I kind of just pretended that the camera was a crowd, but it was a little hard when they shot a close up of us,” she said.
The filmed and edited performance allowed Wilson to experiment. This year, fourth grader Charlie Tilley isn't playing just one battle soldier.
"What they’re doing is, they’re like duplicating me into many battle soldiers, so I’m like all of them,” he said.
It's just another twist Wilson is putting on the holiday classic. The show features Tchaikovsky's traditional score in the first half, and Duke Ellington's version of the Nutcracker Suite in the second.
"When we go into the Land of Sweets, I call it the Land of Sweet Harlem,” Wilson said.
The performance marks a joyful time at P.S. 9, after an especially tough year. In March, Sandra Santos-Vizcaino was the first teacher in the city to die of COVID-19.
"She was my teacher in third grade and so it’s good because not only is it good that we just go to do ‘The Nutcracker,’ but because we did it, it’s good that we can dedicate it to her,” Charlie said.
The performance will be streamed online Christmas Eve. Wilson hopes it will remain a communal event, with people all tuning in at the same time.
“We can feel that sense of togetherness, even though we are apart in our own homes,” she said.
For the students, it will also be something special they can look back on.
"It’s my last year at this school, and dancing with the people at P.S. 9 — it’s an experience that I wouldn’t change,” Ella Rose said.