To the editor: Local ‘Nutcracker’ an especially special event this year

I saw some good news this weekend: My wife, Ashley Hensel-Browning, directed the “The Nutcracker” for The Dance Factory, like she does every year. I saw the Arabian dancers, the Candy Canes, the Waltz of the Flowers – things we expect in December, right? But to see them come alive in Covid-19 times, against the wind — even my own hard heart was moved.

Ashley and her students taught and learned outdoors through Thanksgiving, in all weathers, in masks. They built a “Nutcracker” without live audiences or ticket sales, and no certainty about whether the Gov. Phil Scott would even allow the nuts to be cracked, up to the last day! Nevertheless, they persisted!

I used to not know a thing about “The Nutcracker” or what it means. But now that I have seen it in both normal times and during Covid, I have come to understand that “The Nutcracker” is a character-building project for kids who dance ballet. They start out as goslings and mice, and as they grow, their skill grows. Their roles grow. A person can become a Snow Queen, a Prince, a Mouse King. They can become the things that they have dreamed about.

It was filmed by SAPA-TV at the Bellows Falls Opera house with every Covid protocol in place. Only one scene’s cast was allowed in the theater at a time. The Russian Cossack dancers waited on the sidewalk outside the Opera House, in masks, for their turn to get their temperatures checked. Mark Derosia also masked, climbed way higher than a man with a gray beard and a bag of snow should legally climb, to make sure that the Snow Queen’s magical spell could be cast. The delight danced in the eyes of the goslings as they scooted back under Mother Goose’s skirt.

These are things money can’t buy. Only love can bring them off. I think it shines a light of hope.

It’s not accidental that this “Nutcracker” is made by  The Dance Factory. Susan Hagan started it 35 years ago on the factory floor of the Fellows building, long before the renovation. This “Nutcracker” caused me to look back on all the changes in our community, everything that has been done and made. It gives hope, this thing Susan, Kate Derosia and Ashley have built on that factory floor in Springfield. It gives a lot of hope, that we are people who make things.

For folks who want to see for themselves: look for “The Nutcracker” on SAPA-TV and Okemo Valley TV!

Sean Whalen

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  1. Sharon Jonynas says:

    Thank you for writing about the Nutcracker, Sean. My family, like the Lorenz family, also goes WAY back with the Dance Factory, and I love watching the dancers as they progress through the years. I cry every time I watch the Snow Queen, delight and smile when I see Mother Goose, and am always in awe of the Russian dancers. This is, truly, a wonderful tradition, and I’m glad that it’s been kept alive through the pandemic. Hats off to Susan and Kate and Ashley and Mark and the multitude of others that make the production possible.

  2. Nancie Lorenz says:

    Our family goes WAY back with the Dance Factory and I can’t wait to see this year’s incarnation of The Nutcracker!
    Congratulations and Thanks to everyone who maade this happen in such a challenging year. Cue the applause!!!