Ballet academy

The Greenwich Ballet Academy dances around Covid with a digital production of The Nutcracker

Greenwich Ballet Academy has jumped and thrown in response to Covid, closing last March for studio classes and reopening July 6.

Before closing again on November 12, when Port Chester received a Covid-19 Orange Zone designation, the non-profit ballet school brainstormed a way for dancers to perform The Nutcracker, one of two highly anticipated annual shows – the other being the Recital Spring, which was canceled in response to the initial closure last March.

And while last year students performed The Nutcracker at the Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center, which Patricia Franklin, chair of the GBA board of trustees, described as a wonderful experience, this offering did not. was offered this year.

“We were kind of thinking about how we could give kids a performance opportunity, given Covid,” Franklin said, adding, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. “

“The kids are really looking forward to these two performances. When you take one out, it’s a big disappointment, especially if they’ve already started rehearsing,” she said. “They can almost taste it.”

This year, the two protagonists of the production, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara, are both students from Greenwich. Noa Leahey (Clara), 11, is a student at Eastern Middle School. Carolina Rivera (Sugar Plum Fairy), 17, junior at Greenwich High School. Photo Christopher Duggan.

“The challenge for a studio like ours is that we typically use facilities associated with schools,” Franklin explained. “And I don’t have a crystal ball to try to predict when schools would be comfortable allowing outside groups to use their facilities again, but that may be a long way off.”

With the challenges of dancer safety during Covid and the lack of performance space, the GBA instead transformed its own Grand Studio from a practice and rehearsal space into something Franklin described as akin to a black box theater – only in white – that could accommodate both digital and live shows.

“One of our professors came to me with an idea over the summer,” Franklin recalls. “She had seen that the Washington Ballet had raised funds by broadcasting from a converted studio. They had hung these beautiful white soft panels to cover the ballet bars and the mirrors, and put on some professional lighting.

Franklin loved the idea.

“I went to the board and explained convincingly why I thought it would be a good idea to invest in this project. Not only because it’s an opportunity to film a Nutcracker professional, but also because I thought we wouldn’t have access to a movie theater for probably a year.

The studio’s transformed design included suspending soft panels from a truss system and adding small multicolored LED uprights and front lights to the overhead beam.

From left to right: Victoria Rivera (Snow Queen), Carolina Rivera (Sugar Plum Fairy), Caroline Walsh (Flowers Queen). Photo: Christophe Duggan

Fortunately, GBA didn’t have to look far for help with the design and execution of the project.

Franklin said one of the GBA teachers, Adrienne Schulte, who came up with the idea to transform the studio, is married to John Froelich, the resident lighting designer at the Metropolitan Opera.

“He generously donated his expertise and time to make this project a reality for us,” she said, adding that Froelich did everything from taking measurements of the studio to developing the plans, to the physical installation – without a team. He also did all the lighting.

Greenwich Ballet Academy has turned its Grand Studio into a performance space, given the inability to perform at Greenwich High School PAC this year due to Covid. The students were filmed in groups of no more than 10, which made editing difficult.

Safety protocols for ballet dancers was another business.

Since July, students have been required to wear masks.

“It’s part of our DNA now. Everyone is used to it,” Franklin said. “We provided them with masks so that they were both uniform and aesthetically pleasing.”

For The Nutcracker, a dozen high school students, whose roles incorporate much more intense dances, had the opportunity to test shortly before filming to be able to dance without a mask.

“Upper level dancers were tested just prior to filming and followed procedures of being virtual for school for the entire week and not being in contact with others outside of their household,” said Franklin said, adding, “I was lucky that we had a parent at school who is an infectious disease expert. She advised me to develop policies from a safety perspective.”

Carolina Rivera (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Andrii Ishchuk (Horseman), American Ballet Theater guest artist. Photo: Christophe Duggan

The shoot itself was another challenge as all the scenes had to be broken down so that no more than 10 students were dancing at a time. Quite a challenge given that there are around 55 dancers in the production.

“You take classic scenes, like the battle scene where the mice are fighting the soldiers,” Franklin said. “We first called the soldiers and filmed them alone. It was difficult for the children because they had never rehearsed this way. They used to see the mice on the other side. Everything had to be broken. »

“The kids have been amazing,” Franklin said. “Our youngest are 6 years old and up to 17 years old. They were focused and seized the opportunity.”

As editing draws to a close, GBA is looking forward to the Nutcracker premiering on the weekend of December 12-13.

The Virtual Nutcracker will go live on Saturday, December 12 at 10:00 a.m. and will remain live until Sunday, December 13 at 11:59 p.m.

Sign up to watch for free at We will email the link to the virtual viewing no later than one hour before the premiere. If you have any questions, you can contact us at [email protected]