Manhattan Youth After-School Dancers Bring a New 'Nutcracker' to the Stage

On stage for "The Nutcracker Reboot," kids from kindergarten to 2nd grade after-school JazzPop class at the Downtown Community Center. 

Dec. 09, 2019

Once again, a creative adaptation of “The Nutcracker came to the P.S. 89 holiday stage, performed on Saturday by Manhattan Youth’s after school dance classes. 

Some 400 kids from six schools and the Downtown Community Center took the stage in two performances of “The Nutcracker Reboot,” a kind of kids versus technology slant on the holiday classic.

Samplings from one of two performances of "The Nutcracker Reboot," this one by after-school students from P.S. 234, P.S. 89, P.S. 276 and the Downtown Community Center. The other show featured dancers from P.S. 343, P.S. 397 and P.S. 225. Costumes are designed by Contance Tarbox; set design by Susan Kay and Taylor Clayton Brooks.

“It’s about technology and just kids being kids without the technology,” said director Susan Kay, who comes up with the theme and music selections for Manhattan Youth’s twice-yearly dance performances. “The idea is that the kids win but they make peace with the robots.”

Manhattan Youth’s “Nutcracker” tradition began back in 2010, when there were only three schools and 10 dance classes—mostly ballet and creative dance, and when “we could be more authentic to the story,” Kay said. But that changed as the program grew to seven sites and 29 classes, many of them hip hop. (The past two seasons she gave the “The Nutcracker” a rest.)

“Faced with the reality of that style of dance and the music that goes with it, I realized I had to veer off the more traditional classical aspect of the “Nutcracker,” and I had to make it interesting for the kids who continue to take dance, year after year. So I’ve taken a lot of liberties with that story line.” 

What hasn’t changed, Kay said, is the passion that goes into each production, not only by the kids and families, but also by the Manhattan Youth after-school staff. “The counselors work very hard,” she said, “but at the end of the show they always want to know, ‘When’s the next one?’”